"A King Offers to Make Amends to a Bereaved Mother", Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi
Amir Khusrau Dihlavi (1253–1325)
Painting attributed to Miskin (active ca. 1570–1604)
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Attributed to India
Main support: Ink, opaque watercolor, gold on paper
Margins: Gold on dyed paper
H. 9 3/4 in. .(24.8 cm)
W. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm)
Gift of Alexander Smith Cochran, 1913
Not on view
In this dramatic painting, a king submits to justice after having accidentally killed a shepherd while hunting. He offers the boy's grieving mother a choice: to take his sword and cut off his head, which will fall in the golden dish between them, or to accept the second dish filled with gold. Some of the marginal figures are of European inspiration, while the rocks are Persian and the main figures are typically Mughal.
Kushraw's thirteenth maqala takes up a constant theme of Islamic courtly literature and exhorts sovereigns to heed their duty to rule with wisdom and unwavering justice. The poet exemplifies this dictum with the tragic story of a king who mistakes a sleeping youth for a bird and slays his innocent victim with an arrow. The wails of the boy's bereaved mother soon reach the king, who discovers the calamity of this inadvertent crime. Placing two golden basins and his sword before the woman, the dismayed king offers the widow her choice of compensation: his head on one salver or a great mound of riches on the other. Mindful of the pointlessness of further bloodshed, the woman accepts the gold and urges the king to continue his just ways.
Miskin places the traditional elements of the story–the king, the slain youth and his grieving mother, the sword and basins–at the center of his scene. Both figures conceal their anguish behind impassive expressions, a reaction emulated by the king's elegant hunting companions on the right. Sprawled over the brushwood fence that encloses the field he once guarded is the youth himself; although his contorted position is surely intended to convey the agony of his death throes, it shares its impression of weightlesness with living figures by Miskin's hand.
Miskin borrows both technique and motif from European prints that circulated throughout the imperial atelier. The richly modeled robes of mother and child are cut from different cloth than the taut jama's of the king's entourage. The wide faces and wavy brown hair of the fallen boy and his three brawling peers betray an obvious debt to European prototypes, as does the crucifix carried by the figure on the right. Likewise, the Mughal fascination with the world beyond takes shape in both the gleaming spires of the miniature town and the ghostly boats plying distant seas.
This emphasis on recession is reinforced by the bright stream and charming animals meandering across the upturned landscape. Miskin habitually includes animals for this reason, but repeats the three frolicking horses in the upper right so often that the motif originally coined by the Persian master Bihzad becomes his own.
John Seyller in [Seyller 2001]
Alexander Smith Cochran, Yonkers, NY (until 1913; gifted to MMA)
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