KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Mughal empire, courtly life, natural world, observation, album, plants, birds, watercolor, ink
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS CHAPTER
This painting of two vultures reflects the Mughal emperors' interest in studying and visually recording animals and their behaviors and attributes.
This painting is one of many works from an imperial album commissioned by Emperor Jahangir. In addition to other depictions of animals, the album included portrayals of the royal household and central administration as well as lavishly illuminated pages of calligraphy containing poetic verses. Like a luxurious scrapbook, such royal albums reflect the range of interests and refined tastes of their owners.
This scientifically accurate painting is the result of careful observation of two vultures. Close attention to detail is evident in the shape and color of the beaks, the proportions of the bodies, and the color and texture of the feathers, all of which help distinguish the birds as two different species: a red-headed vulture (on the left) and a long-billed vulture (on the right). Although the surroundings are minimal, they give a sense of the birds' habitat; one of the vultures perches on a branchlike formation, while the other appears to rest on a rocky ledge nearby.
The court painter Mansur was a favorite of Emperor Jahangir because of his ability to create highly realistic portrayals of animals and plants. His skill prompted Jahangir to take the artist with him on hunting expeditions and other journeys so that the painter could record the animal and plant species they encountered. Mansur also had access to the imperial zoo, which housed animals that had been captured or given to the emperor as gifts.
Sketching from nature was essential to Mansur's practice and Jahangir's zoo provided a perfect opportunity to draw a wide range of animals. He continually redrew his lines to account for the animals' shifts in pose and movement, resulting in sketches that appear both realistic and animated. In his studio, he used very fine brushes to apply opaque watercolor to selected drawings, creating a highly detailed finished product.