The Hamzanama recounts the adventures of Hamza, an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad who was a legendary defender of the faith. This painting shows Misbah on the right and Parran on the left as they plot to rescue Hamza’s kidnapped son. It comes from a multivolume, large‑scale copy of the text made for the emperor Akbar, which took approximately fifteen years to complete. Unlike most books, its paintings were possibly meant to be held up for an audience while a storyteller recited the text.
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Title:"Misbah the Grocer Brings the Spy Parran to his House", Folio from a Hamzanama (The Adventures of Hamza)
Artist:Attributed to Dasavanta (Indian)
Artist: Attributed to Mithra
Geography:Attributed to India
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on cloth; mounted on paper
Dimensions:H. 27 7/8 in. (70.8 cm) W. 21 5/8 in. (54.9 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1924
Mesbah the Grocer Brings the Spy Barran to his House
Nothing quite prepares the viewer for the scale and immediacy of illustrations from the Hamza-nama, the earliest product of the great emperor Akbar's atelier. The text describes the mythic adventures of Prince Hamza, uncle of the prophet Muhammad, in his quest to disseminate Islam throughout the world. The large-scale, extraordinarily ambitious manuscript had fourteen hundred illustrations with facing pages of text. It was divided into fourteen volumes and took fourteen years to complete. The design and coloring of every page was overseen by a single artist, but several craftsmen worked on each illustration. Although influenced by the style of Persian paintings, these images differ in having a principal narrative element that dominates the scene and a composition that reinforces the picture's dramatic intent.
In Mesbah the Grocer Brings the Spy Farran to His House, the tiled floors and walls, carpets, hanging armor, and largely frontal architecture are all contained decoratively in a symmetrical composition parallel to the picture plane. The space is opened up, however, by the clarity and solidity of the figures, which have weight and depth and which overlap one another, by the diagonal of the carpet border, and by the implied sight lines of the participants as they look through and out of the space. There is no question that amidst the decorative complexity, at the center of the action, is a psychological drama. Both main figures are brilliantly characterized, the furtive spy with his contorted posture and animated hands and the massive, still grocer, by far the largest person in the painting, glancing suspiciously toward his guest.
Steven M. Kossak in [Kossak 1997]
Misbah the Grocer Brings the Spy Parran to His House
This illustration of an impromptu meeting between Misbah the grocer and the spy Parran has no obvious explanation now, for the text that once preceded it is now missing and the text that follows alludes only to Parran in a very oblique manner. Nonetheless, a textual passage on an illustration five folios before this one relates Hamza's concern about the sudden disappearance of his son, Prince Ibraham, as well as Umar's dispatch of Parran, one of Ibrahim's spies, to discover his whereabouts. Further remarks establish that an enemy ayyar named Firoz had kidnapped Prince Ibrahim from his bed and had taken him to the Mihratia fortress. Malik Sadaj Kohi, Ibrahim's initial jailer, is eager to test the handsome youth's fabled strength, and so challenges him to a wrestling match, but makes Ibrahim swear that should he win, he would submit to imprisonment once more. The honorable Ibrahim agrees, and quickly displays his physical superiority. An alarmed Sadaj comes away from the match with a heightened appreciation of just how formidable his prisoner can be.
This illustration picks up the story when Parran reaches the city where he believes Ibrahim is being held. He somehow encounters Misbah the grocer, a believer in a city of infidels and something of a clandestine operator in his own right. The caption below the painting indicates that Misbah has brought Parran back to his own house, almost certainly to discuss plans to free Ibrahim from prison. Indeed, the text that follows describes the counter-measures Malik Qimar and his spies take to ensure that no one can possibly liberate Ibrahim. Misbah later becomes involved in the search for another of Hamza's allies, Malik Bahman, and is finally rewarded for his devoted service by being made chief of police.
For a grocer, Misbah has quite an imposing presence. Even with his legs drawn up beneath him, the customary manner of sitting, he towers over his visitor and the servants ringing the courtyard. Parran, crouching before Misbah and speaking animatedly, looks every bit the seasoned spy: he wears a rakish fur cap on his head, a tigerskin cloak over his bare shoulders, a long horn across his back, and ample golden chains about his neck and ankles. Misbah's house shows no sign of his regular occupation; instead it is crisscrossed with spy paraphernalia of every sort, from swords and shields to arrows and pelts. Most of the surrounding figures have already availed themselves of this stock, and one young follower worriedly clutches a musket, among the earliest depictions of this newfangled weapon in Mughal painting. By contrast, only two figures attend to the lavish platters and flasks set on and around the brilliant red cloth in the center of the courtyard.
Davasanta's hand is seen in many parts of the painting. Most obvious are Misbah and Parran, the one given a voluminous jama and a deep black-green scarf with streaky gold highlights, the other characterized strongly and rendered in an adventurous back-turned view. Davasanta emphasizes the courtyard's crisp geometry by framing it with an absolutely flattened doorway and a wall comprised of repetitive niches, and by filling it with an exceptionally assertive octagonal tilework pattern. He continues this tendency to maximize contrast in the chamber itself, using a pure white wall both to silhouette the figures and to set of the ornamental display of weapons. The vibrant foliage of the tree in the upper right is also typical of his work.
The other figures are by Mithra, an artist who played a secondary role in a number of paintings in this volume. His figures have noticeably oval faces with large, dark features, and often assume striking apprehensive expressions. Several figures have had their faces partially or entirely repainted, most conspicuously Misbah and the soldier in white in the lower right.
Reiza Khan Monif, Paris and New York (until 1924; his sale, AndersonGalleries, New York, February 29, 1924, lot 165, to MMA)
University Gallery, University of Florida. "Miniatures and Small Sculptures from India," April 10, 1966–May 29, 1966, no. 73.
Bloomington. Indiana University. "Islamic Art Across the World," June 18, 1970–October 1, 1970, no. 124.
Indianapolis. Indianapolis Museum of Art. "Treasures from the Metropolitan," October 25, 1970–January 3, 1971, no. 88.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bright Side of the Battle: Symbol and Ceremony in Islamic Arms and Armor," January 17 1985–January 11, 1987, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Indian Court Painting: 16th–19th Century," March 25–July 6, 1997, no. 7.
Bowie, Theodore Robert. "An Exhibition Prepared by Theodore Bowie." In Islamic Art Across the World. Vol. no. 1970/3. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Art Museum, June 17 to Oct. 1, 1970. no. 124, p. 65, ill. fig. 124.
Dimand, Maurice S. "Several Illustrations from the Dastan-i Amir Hamza in American Collections." Artibus Asiae vol. 11, nos. 1–2 (1948). ill. fig. 2 (b/w).
University Gallery, University of Florida. "April 10th thru May 29th, 1966." In Miniatures and Small Sculptures from India. 1966. no. 73.
Indianapolis Museum of Art. "Catalogue of the Inaugural Exhibition of the Indianapolis Museum of Art." In Treasures of the Metropolitan. Indianapolis, 1970. no. 88, p. 127, ill.
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 132–33, ill. fig. 102 (color).
Diamond, Debra. Yoga : The Art of Transformation. Washington: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2013. no. 17c, pp. 202–3, 208–9, ill. p. 208 (color).
Kossak, Steven M., ed. Indian Court Painting 16th–19th century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 7, pp. 32–33, ill. p. 33 (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. 54, pp. 168–69, 267, ill. (color); (related) pp. 300–01.
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