"Alexander Visits the Sage Plato in his Mountain Cave", Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi
Amir Khusrau Dihlavi (1253–1325)
attributed to Basawan (Indian, active ca. 1556–1600)
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Attributed to India
Main support: Ink, opaque watercolor, gold on paper
Margins: Gold on dyed paper
Page: 9 7/8 x 6 1/4 in. (25.1 x 15.9 cm)
Mat: 19 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. (48.9 x 36.2 cm)
Gift of Alexander Smith Cochran, 1913
Not on view
The Khamsa of the Indian poet Amir Khusrau includes a section on the philosopher-king Alexander the Great, who in Khusrau’s telling of his life led expeditions to China, Russia, and the Western Isles, and also undertook quests of a spiritual dimension. Here, the turbaned king is seated on the right, listening to the sage Plato, who offers advice on rulership but also warns of Alexander’s impending death.
Alexander complements his military exploits on behalf of his realm and religion with personal explorations of the unfathomed depths of the mind and the sea. Continuing the long Islamic tradition of such conferences between temporal and spiritual authorities, he seeks out the sage Plato, who offers words of advice on rulership and warnings of Alexander's impending death. Khusraw grants Plato a more prominent role in Alexander's story than does Nizami, who singles out the philosopher only for his ability to charm animals with music.
Dressed in a robe so heavily textured that it suggests fur, Plato gestures in exposition to Alexander, who listens amenably with his hands folded. The shadowy confines of Plato's cave lend an air of intimacy to the quiet exchange of ideas between the two figures. Not daring to intrude, Alexander's retainers, on the right, turn in among themselves, while the grooms and huntsmen in the foreground are preoccupied with their chores. Indeed, the only distraction comes from the nearby figure of a cook hunkered over a simmering stewpot. By his conspicuous placement and carefully observed position and expression, a common genre figure is transformed into a remarkable character study.
In this, his last dated painting, Basavana works similar wonders on the animals scattered around the scene. Whether it be the dog dozing contentedly before the fire, a hound slavering from the hunt, or two jackals observing the proceedings with vigilant golden eyes, Basavana consistently animates—some would even say personifies—his creatures with highly individualized actions and expressions.
Basavanas landscapes also move away from predictable forms and schematic compositions. The rocks billowing above Alexander and Plato acquire unusual mass and volume from their subtle coloring and division into facets. Figures pass through the traditionally impenetrable screen of rocks in the foreground, which opens onto an area broken up by uncontrived rocks and gullies. Even the walls and domes of the ubiquitous cityscape are well-integrated with the high outcrops and the text panel that they abut.
John Seyller in [Seyller 2001]
Alexander Smith Cochran, Yonkers, NY (until 1913; gifted to MMA)
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Indianapolis. Indiana University. "East-West in Art," June 1, 1966–October 1, 1966, no catalogue.
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100–1900," September 26, 2011–January 8, 2012.
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