The Hamzanama recounts the fable of Hamza, an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad who was a legendary defender of the faith. This painting illustrates an episode involving 'Umar, a spy loyal to Hamza, who learns of a secret tunnel into Fulad castle from the soldier whom he has bested. It comes from a multivolume, large-scale copy of the text made for the emperor Akbar that took approximately fifteen years to complete. Unlike most books, its paintings were probably meant to be held up for an audience while a storyteller recited the text.
The illustrated Hamzanama (Story of Hamza) made for the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) has been noted for several remarkable qualities. The original number of painted leaves—1,400, of which about 140 survive—is far greater than for most projects; the size of each folio is almost three times that of any other manuscript of the Mughal period; the illustrations have text on the reverse, stimulating yet-unanswered questions about the manuscript’s practical use; and, finally, the dynamic hybrid painting style indicates the variety and number of talented artists in the royal workshop at this early date. Although Akbar is believed to have been unable to read, he is known to have enjoyed being read to, and he maintained a library of more than twenty-eight thousand volumes. This folio from the Hamzanama illustrates an episode involving ‘Umar, a spy loyal to the Prophet Muhammad’s uncle Hamza, who learns of a secret tunnel into the castle of Fulad from a foot soldier whom he has knocked down. A caption below the image identifies the subject and the characters depicted. The painting of the figures has been attributed to the artist Keshav Das, while the upper part of the work is thought to have been executed by another artist, Mah Muhammad; such collaborations were typical of the Mughal workshop practice. The fallen soldier’s staring eyes, undone turban, and sprawling body illustrate the expressive energy that characterizes the entire manuscript. In contrast, the spry figure of ‘Umar is more classically restrained, representing another stylistic thread woven through the paintings. As in other folios, nature—denoted here by birds, lush foliage, and a lively flowing stream—is a strong element of the composition. The thickly applied paint has worn off in some places, exposing the woven cotton support below. Recent scholarship on the extensive palette has found that a variety of sources were used to achieve the color gradations, which can be seen here particularly in the many tones of green and the shading of the modeled areas. The Museum fur Angewandte Kunst in Vienna has the greatest concentration of surviving Hamzanama folios, with many others dispersed in major museum collections around the world. The Metropolitan Museum holds five. Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. Seyller et al. 2002, pp. 171–72, no. 55.(see Bibliograhy) 2. Owen, Antoinette in ibid, p. 284. 3. Acc. nos. 18.44.1, 18.44.2, 23.264.1, 23.264.2, and 24.48.1.
Inscription: Inscription in Persian in nasta‘liq script at bottom:
سیر کردن عمر بر گرد حصار فولاد و پیاده دیدن و جفت لگدی برو زدن و افتادن پیاده که او عیّار فولاد بود
‘Umar walks around Fulad castle, meets a foot soldier, and kicks him to the ground . . .
Anderson Galleries, New York, December 17–23, 1923, lot 242, to MMA
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Indian Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 18, 1973–April 1, 1973, no catalogue.
New York. Asia Society. "Akbar's India: Art from the Mughal City of Victory," October 10, 1985–January 5, 1986, no. 11.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. pp. 52-54.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammadan Art. Iran Library. Tehran: Bongah Tarjomeh va Nashr Ketab, 1957. pp. 52-54.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 3rd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1958. pp. 52-54.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. Publications, 36.. Lahore: The Panjabi Adabi Academy, 1964. pp. 52-54.
Brand, Michael. "Art from the Mughal City of Victory." In Akbar's India. New York: Asia Society, 1985. no. 11, pp. 31, 138, ill. p. 31 (color).
Seyller, John, Thackston M. Wheeler, Ebba Koch, Antoinette Owen, and Rainald Franz. The Adventures of Hamza. Washington, D.C.; London: Azimuth Editions, 2002. no. 55, pp.170-171, 267, ill. (color), (related) p. 301.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 244, pp. 339, 348-349, ill. p. 349 (color).