"Akbar With Lion and Calf", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album, Painting by Govardhan (active ca. 1596–1645), Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

"Akbar With Lion and Calf", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Painting by Govardhan (active ca. 1596–1645)
Mir 'Ali Haravi (d. ca. 1550)
Object Name:
Album leaf
verso: ca. 1630; recto: ca. 1530–50
Attributed to India
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 15 5/16 in. (38.9 cm)
W. 10 1/8 in. (25.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 463
This posthumous portrait of Akbar incorporates the Elizabethan-derived motif of a lion and calf living in peace under the emperor’s benign rule. Govardhan, a master of psychological portraiture, has given the calf an air of meek nervousness, as expressed in its sideways glance and lowered ears, due no doubt to the proximity of the lion’s visible teeth. Cherubs above and a Netherlandish background add cosmopolitan touches in vogue at the time. verso–Akbar with Lion and Calf

Govardan's Likeness of Akbar (1542–1605) shows the greatest of the Mughal emperors in old age, as he would have been remembered by the two major patrons of this album, his son Jahangir and his grandson Shahjahan. Based upon observation–the artist's imperial career spanned all three reigns–this posthumous likeness is idealized to the point of canonization, reminding us that after his death Akbar was known as 'Arsh-Ashiyani (He Who Nests in the Divine Throne). Serenely smiling, he offers a rosary of jewels to the royal patron for whom he was painted, probably Shahjahan, whose accomplished calligraphy appears in the margin. Above hover a trio of cherubs, tootling, strumming, and bearing an incongruously European crown. In the foreground the power of the pax Mughalica is symbolized by a reclining calf, undisturbed by the nearby lion eyeing it with uncharacteristic benevolence. Beyond, a landscape with Indian figures melts into the blue sky. Netherlandish architecture in aerial perspective, adapted from European prints, adds another cosmopolitan note to the composition.

Govardhan, a Hindu whose name is derived from the mountain miraculously elevated by the god Krishna, was one of the six or eight foremost Mughal artists. His psychologically penetrating portraiture and swelling forms suggest that he studied with Basawan, Akbar's greatest master, upon whose painterly brushwork he modeled his own. Darting strokes build up cloud banks in a characteristic palette of subdued grays, whites, tans, and soft blues, accented, as here in Akbar's turban, by areas of chromatic richness. Fond of swirls and sparkle, he enjoyed depicting marbled paper, [1] and he handled gold with extraordinary skill, highlighting, striating, and pricking it. Although his court portraiture is outstanding, Govardhan's most striking characterizations are intimate studies of holy men (see MMA in this volume), probably painted for Prince Dara-Shikoh, the ill-fated son of Shahjahan, whose religious toleration and mystical tendencies were akin to those of his great-grandfather. When Govardhan painted this insightful portrait of Akbar, he appreciated the affinity between the two notably tolerant imperial mystics and recalled the former with the sympathy he usually accorded to saints.

Govardhan was an artist of extraordinary breadth who also painted many outstanding depictions of the court and its activities. As a young man, he contributed miniatures to the British Library's Akbamama of 1604 (Or. 12988) and to the Chester Beatty Akbarnama.[2] We attribute to him one of the few overtly humorous pictures of its period, Jahangir Playing Holi with the Ladies of His Palace, describing an incident of such gusto that it has terrorized one of the artist's favorite and oft-depicted animals, a cat whose hair stands on end.[3]
Another picture attributable to him is a regal portrait of Shahjahan, on the Peacock Throne.[4] Also attributable to him is the liveliest painting in the Windsor Padshahnama (fol. 133r), Prince Aurangzeb Spearing an Enraged Elephant (see Appendix, fig. 15), in which the artist reveals that like Bichitr–an exponent of trompe l'oeil–he could master European concepts.[5]
Although sinuous runs of the brush, a smoky palette, and brilliant characterizations of every personage–from the prince with his retroussé nose (a characteristic of the artist) to the mahouts and footsoldiers–are expected of Govardhan, his handling of recession in space is unique in Mughal painting of the mid-seventeenth century. Inasmuch as the Mughals ordinarily disdained perspective as a jarring violation of the picture plane, it is exciting to see that at least one of Shahjahan's artists effectively suggested distance through vanishing points, line, and color. [6]

Another, probably later, version of the present picture, in black ink heightened with gold, is in the Cleveland Museum of Art.[7]

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

This verso painting has the margin number 26. It contains an inner border with a palmette-and-floral scroll in pink on a gold ground. Its outer border has gold flowering plants on a deep pink ground that bears no resemblance to the usual pink border color. An iris appears in the narrow left margin with a rose above it and, possibly, a rose at the upper right.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987]


I. See Govardhan's Shaykh Husayn fami and Attendant, in Marteau, Georges, and Vever, Henri. Miniatures persanes tirées des collections . .. et exposées au Museé des arts décoratifs, juin-octobre 1912. Paris, 1913, vol. II, pl. CLVI.

2. See Arnold, Thomas W, and Wilkinson, J. V. S. The Library of A. Chester Beatty: A Catalogue of the Indian Miniatures. London, 1936, vol. II, frontis. and pls. 16 and 31.

3. Ibid., vol. III, pl. 56. Pl. 59 illustrates a happier feline, listening to Prince Dara-Shikoh.

4· Welch, Stuart Cary, India! Art and Culture 1300–1900. Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, no. 154.

5. For a description of the incident, which took place in 1633 on the bank of the Jumna near the palace at Agra occupied by Shahjahan before his accession, see Sarkar, Jadunath. History of Aurangzib. London and New York, 1920, vol. 1, pp. 9–11.

6. Govardhan's not entirely scientific use of perspective was probably based on studying Northern European engravings, evidence for which is seen in the background of the Kevorkian Akbar. Another remarkable historical subject attributable to Govardhan shows Jahangir riding past Akbar's tomb at Sikandra (Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, 34/5; Hambly, Gavin. Cities of Mughul India. New York, 1968, jacket cover.

7. See Leach, Linda York. Indian Miniature Paintings and Drawings. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1986, p. 92, fig. 26. recto–Calligraphy

Oh you, whose essence grants seekers bounty rich,
And from whose beauty, joy increases, and delight!
Mine of munificence–the dignitaries put
With proper etiquette their eyes upon your foot!

The last line on the lower border reads:

You are the honor of the kingdom and the lord of the time.

The last two lines in the quatrain contain a pun on the words "eye" and "proper" ('ayn means "eye," "essence," and "proper").

This poem also appears on V&A I2–I925v, where there is an important addition: under the title "Showing openly what was concealed" Mir-'Ali begins with two lines of Chagatay poetry about Babur who "by his understanding and perception has finally become world-famous." Then follows the poem, including the last line: "You are the honor of the kingdom ... "The signature reads: "By its scribe, the lowly, poor, sinful Mir-'Ali al-katib as-sultani in the Abode of Glory, Bukhara." The verse may have been written duri!ng Babur's conquest of India, which probably filled Mir-'Ali with the hope of seeing Babur one day as ruler in Herat as well. But it must have been many years later, and certainly after Babur's death in 1530, that the "royal scribe," as Mir-'Ali called himself in the 1530s, dared to reveal his secret loyalty to the founder of the Timurid house.

The page is surrounded by verses in minute ghubar (dust script) from Subhat al-abrar, one of the seven epics that Mulla Jami (d. 1492), the master of Herat, composed.[1]

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

This recto page has an inner border similar to that of the verso and an outer border of gold flowers on a pale buff ground. An iris can be seen in the outer border with a rose beside it. This album leaf resembles no other in the Kevorkian Album and must therefore be the only folio from its original album to have made its way into the Kevorltian Album.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987]


1. Jami, 'Abdur-Rahman. Haft Aurang. Ed. Aqa Mustafa and Mudarris Gilani. Teheran, 1958, p. 466.
Inscription: verso:
In Persian, in lower border (in Shah Jahan's hand): Work of Govardhan.

Marking: verso:
Margin number '26' is inscribed in the gilt margin.
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (in 1929; sale, Sotheby's London,December 12, 1929, to Kevorkian); Hagop Kevorkian, New York, from 1929]; [ Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until 1955; gift and sale to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Emperor's Album: Images of Mughal India," October 21, 1987–February 14, 1988, nos. 9 and 10.

Mexico City. Colegio de San Ildefonso. "Arte islamico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York," September 30, 1994–January 8, 1995, no. 8.

Canberra. National Gallery of Australia. "The Vision of Kings: Art and Experience in India," November 25, 1995–February 4, 1996, no. 94.

Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "The Vision of Kings: Art and Experience in India," February 23, 1996–April 28, 1996, no. 94.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Indian Court Painting," March 25, 1997–July 6, 1997, no. 22.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultan Ali of Mashhad, Master of Nasta'liq," January 19, 2001–May 27, 2001, no catalogue.

Welch, Stuart Cary, Annemarie Schimmel, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, and Wheeler M. Thackston. The Emperors' Album: Images of Mughal India. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. no. nos. 9, 10, pp. 96- 99, ill., verso pl. 9 (color); recto pl. 10 (color).

Okada, Amina. Imperial Mughal Painters: Indian Miniatures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Paris: Flammarion, 1992. p. 44, ill. fig. 44 (color), verso.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Daniel S. Walker, Arturo Ponce Guadián, Sussan Babaie, Stefano Carboni, Aimee Froom, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, Tomoko Masuya, Annie Christine Daskalakis-Matthews, Abdallah Kahil, and Rochelle Kessler. "Colegio de San Ildefonso, Septiembre de 1994-Enero de 1995." In Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994. no. 8, pp. 60-61, ill. p. 61 (b/w).

Brand, Michael. "Art and Experience in India." In The Vision of Kings. Canberra, Australia: National Gallery of Australia, 1995. no. 94, p. 136, ill. p. 136 (color).

Kossak, Steven M., ed. Indian Court Painting 16th–19th century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 22, pp. 49, 51, ill. pl. 22 (color).

Beach, Milo C., Eberhard Fischer, and B.N. Goswamy. Masters of Indian Painting. Vol. Vols. I, II. Zurich, Switzerland: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2011. vol. I, p. 360.

Haidar, Navina, and Courtney Stewart. "Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection." In Treasures from India. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 43, ill. (color).