Approximately one century after the Persian poet Nizami wrote his Khamsa (Quintet), the Indian poet Amir Khusrau Dihlavi composed a response using Nizami’s structure but varying his stories slightly. This painting comes from the Mughal emperor Akbar’s (r. 1556–1605) personal copy of Amir Khusrau’s verses. It shows the king Bahram Gur with his beautiful slave girl, Dilaram, who could make animals sleep or awaken with the sound of her music.
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Title:"Bahram Gur Sees a Herd of Deer Mesmerized by Dilaram' s Music", Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi
Artist:Attributed to Miskin (active ca. 1570–1604)
Geography:Attributed to India
Medium:Main support: ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paperMargins: gold on dyed paper
Dimensions:H. 9 5/8 in. (24.5 cm) W. 5 15/16 in. (15.1 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Alexander Smith Cochran, 1913
Bahram Gur Sees a herd of Deer Mesmerized by the Music Played by Dilaram
Khusraw retains the essence of Nizami's story of Bahram Gur's hunting feat and the banishment of his beautiful female slave, Fitna, in a moment of proud anger. He alters the incident that ultimately reconciles Bahram with his lover, however, replacing Fitna's display of extraordinary physical strength with Dilaram's performance of spell-binding music, a skill more attuned to Khusraw's own interest in that art. Bahram marvels at Dilaram's ability to make animals sleep or awaken at the sound of her barbiton, realizes its obvious relevance to their prior argument over innate and learned skills, and apologizes for his sinful arrogance.
Gaps in the text and the manuscript's original foliation indicate that this full-page scene was originally preceded by a painting of Bahram Gur hunting with Dilaram, a much more frequently illustrated subject. That both episodes are depicted in only one other copy of the Khamsa attests to the originality of the manuscript's painting cycle.
Miskin's hand is easily recognizable in the typically svelte figures and refined countenances of Bahram and Dilaram. More distinctive still are the organic outcrops, which are identical to those of Miskin's painting on folio 69b of the British Library Akbarnama; although the basic model of high, lobed rocks comes from the Persian tradition, the form of these precarious piles of heavily modeled, uniform boulders shows an awareness of Northern European landscape forms.
The scene affords Miskin an opportunity to indulge his passion for the animal world. Happily extending the range of Dilaram's animal audience beyond the former prey of Bahram Gur, Miskin strews across the patchy landscape a black buck, pairs of partridges and foxes, and even a hyena. He adds to his lively renditions of convential poses, such as the deer scratching his ear with his hoof, some innovative ones: the sprawling ram and goat, and the impossibly curled, spotted deer above them. These creatures assume uncanny human experiences; while many on the left close their eyes in music-induced drowsiness, the white goat and the fox in a riverside den raise their eyes mischievously.
John Seyller in [Seyller 2001]
1. The painting is published in Vaughn, "Miskin," fig 19. (reference not given in catalogue)
Bahram Gur Watching Dilaram Charm the Wild Animals
Miskin was one of the greatest artists of Akbar's court. His work is distinguished by the arabesque that animates every element in his complex compositions. This illustration of a Persian text displays the intimate scale and refined execution of manuscripts made for the Lahore court. It is indebted to Persian prototypes in its figure types, stylized horses, and fantastic rock formations, but the deep space, atmospheric recession, and chiaroscuro derive from European models. By this period the Mughal atelier clearly had assimilated these disparate elements into a unified style and was moving toward artistic maturity. Modulated tone replaces flat blocks of color in an effort to reproduce the seen, rather than the conceptualized, world. The image is no longer experienced as pattern all at once; it slowly unfolds, incorporating the element of time and thus involving the observer, who can traverse the clearly delineated space. Anecdotal descriptions of nature are everywhere to be relished but are secondary to the main event.The finish is both free and extraordinarily refined. A sense of freshness and intimacy pervades the work.
Steven M. Kossak in [Kossak 1997]
Alexander Smith Cochran, Yonkers, NY (until 1913; gifted to MMA)
University Gallery, University of Florida. "Miniatures and Small Sculptures from India," April 10, 1966–May 29, 1966, no. 75b.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of the Art of India from The Museum's Collections," January 18–May 31, 1973, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Indian Court Painting: 16th–19th Century," March 25–July 6, 1997, no. 12.
Baltimore. Walters Art Museum. "Pearls of the Parrot of India: The Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi 1597–98," June 19–September 11, 2005, no. XXIV.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pearls of the Parrot of India: The Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi 1597–98," October 14, 2005–March 12, 2006, no. XXIV.
Valentiner, William Reinhold. "The Cochran Collection of Persian Manuscripts." Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin, old series, vol. 8 (1913). pp. 80–86.
"Mughal Painting under Akbar the Great." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s, vol. 12 (October 1953). pp. 46–51, ill. p. 51 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. Indian Miniatures. New York-Milan, 1959. ill. pl. 3.
University Gallery, University of Florida. "April 10th thru May 29th, 1966." In Miniatures and Small Sculptures from India. 1966. no. 75b.
Grube, Ernst J. "The Early School of Herat and its Impact on Islamic Painting of the Later 15th, the 16th and 17th Centuries." In The Classical Style in Islamic Painting. Venice: Edizioni Oriens, 1968. no. 93, ill, pl. 93 (b/w).
Glynn, Catherine. "An Early Mughal Landscape Painting and Realted Works." Los Angeles County Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 20, no. 2 (1974). ill. fig. 7.
Brend, Barbara. "Akbar's Khamsa of Amir Khursaw Dihlavi-A Reconstruction of the Cycle of Illustration." Artibus Asiae vol. 49, nos. 3, 4 (1988/89). ill. pl. 13.
Pal, Pratapaditya, ed. Master Artists of the Imperial Mughal Court. Bombay: Marg Publications, 1991. ill. fig. 13.
Kossak, Steven M., ed. Indian Court Painting 16th–19th century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 12, p. 39, ill. (color).
Seyller, John. "The Walters Art Museum Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi." In Pearls of the Parrot of India.. Baltimore, MD: Walters Art Museum, 2001. no. XXIV, pp. 92–93, ill. fig. 29 (color).
Brend, Barbara. "Illustrations to Amir Khusrau's Khamsa." In Perspectives on Persian Painting. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. pp. 48, 226–38, 254, pp. 48, 198, 264.
Beach, Milo C., Eberhard Fischer, B. N. Goswamy, and Keelan Overton. Masters of Indian Painting. Vol. Vols. I, II. Zurich, Switzerland: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2011. vol. I, p. 170.
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