Art/ Collection/ Art Object

"Shah Jahan on a Terrace, Holding a Pendant Set With His Portrait", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Painting by Chitarman (active ca. 1627–70)
Object Name:
Album leaf
recto: 1627–28; verso: 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:
Not on view
The presentation of the emperor amplifies the formula evolved during the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir. Shah Jahan is exquisitely dressed and richly adorned with jewels, his imperial rank emphasized by his radiating halo and the hovering angels borrowed from European art. The skills of many craftsmen and designers of the Mughal court—jewelers, weavers, architects, feather workers, armorers, stonecutters, and others—are represented here. This is Chitarman’s earliest dated picture, painted soon after Shah Jahan’s accession. verso–Calligraphy

Last night the torrent of my tears
destroyed the roads of sleep;
I drew a picture on the flood,
remembering your black down.
The face of my beloved thus
appeared before my eyes–
I gave some kisses from afar
upon the moonbeam's cheek.
The vision of his eyebrows here,
and I–my cloak all burnt–Thought
of the prayer niche and took
my glass and drank my wine.

The poet describes his state in images that are commonplace in Persian poetry. He weeps so much that sleep cannot find a way to him. He then draws (lit., "writes") something on the water to conjure up the down that grows about his young beloved's lip; this image plays on the word khatt, which means both "black down" (the soft facial hair of an adolescent boy) and "script." By inscribing the flood of tears with such a picture, he sees the friend's face like moonlight and, as it is only a mirage, sends some kisses from a distance. The friend's eyebrows, beautifully arched, look like a prayer niche, and he turns to them as though he were praying.

The page is surrounded by three Chagatay-Turkish verses which form the beginning of a ghazal about the "fire of love" and which may have been calligraphed by Sultan-'Ali.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE BORDER of this verso page is, like its recto, painted in gold on a pale buff ground. It is decorated with a wreathlike undulating scroll of overlapping leaves over a scroll of flowers, leaves, and palmettes on delicate stems. The nineteenth-century artist of the border of MMA fol. 28v (pl. 93 in this volume) copied this design with minor variations. A comparison of the two reveals that the easy mastery found in the seventeenth-century border is entirely lacking in the later one.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987] recto–Shahjahan Nimbed in Glory

SMILING genially, as though making a presentation to a revered personage, Shahjahan raises a gem-studded pendant suspended from a golden cord. It is the ultimate benefaction, a jewel-portrait of himself. This theatrical vision of Shahjahan's worldly and otherworldly glory so borders on excess–it is the most flamboyant portrait of Shahjahan–that some critics have questioned its authenticity.[1] Through the parted clouds radiant light falls upon the glowing splendor of Shahjahan, the pink of whose coat is echoed in the hue of one of the many rings of his nimbus. Cherubs of European inspiration dive from heaven bearing offerings of spiritual flames and ropes of jewels to magnify the divine
burden of imperial treasure.[2] One of his attributes–a broad band composed of strands of pearls, rubies, and emeralds–is a sahra, the veil usually worn by Muslim bridegrooms. Its apt presence here, however, has been interpreted by Dr. 'Ali Asani as a knowing allusion by Hindu Chitarman to the God Vishnu, one of whose titles, "King of the World," is identical in meaning to the title "Shahjahan." For Chitarman the sahra probably represented an important attribute of Vishnu, who has always been considered the husband of the Earth.[3]

Works by most of the state craftsmen and designers of the Mughal imperium are represented here: jewelers, carpet and textile weavers, architects, feather workers, armorers, marble workers, shipwrights, and artists. The emperor stands on a carpeted marble platform before a
pierced marble railing with elephant-shaped finials, over which is draped a magnificent golden brocade. Royal barges graceful as dragonflies cross the Jumna River, perhaps bringing an honored guest; beyond stretches a densely wooded garden with pavilions.

This is Chitarman's masterpiece and his earliest dated picture, painted during his "classical" phase, soon after Shahjahan's accession, before his painted faces smoldered into dark-eyed sootiness. Although his later phase carried the style of Govardhan to extremes of seventeenth-century imperial romanticism, the taut draughtsmanship, pure and brilliant color, and technical refinement seen here proclaim his disciplined training in the imperial ateliers under Abu'l-Hasan. Several of Chitarman's inscribed pictures portray Prince Dara-Shikoh, and it is likely that the artist served him under the supervision of Govardhan, to whom paintings by Chitarman have occasionally been attributed.[4]

Two portraits of Chitarman's presumed patron are almost as theatrical in their heavenly illumination as the present work, reflecting Dara-Sikoh's mystical religiosity and influences from European metaphysical iconography.[5]

Chitarman's royal and courtly characterizations, which became more mannered over the years, are agreeable but exceedingly formal. Figures stand at ramrod attention, frequently with overlong arms and with pleasant but lifeless countenances. As if in reaction to the spider-thin fingers characteristic of Govardhan, Chitarman often lapsed into painting sausage-plump ones tapering elegantly at the tips. This formula as well as idiosyncratic proportions and gestures and prancing horses enables one not only to attribute to him a stray folio from the Windsor Padshahnama but also to identify him as the artist of several genre pictures inspired by Govardhan's studies of holy men.[6]

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS PORTRAIT is surrounded by a qit'a, in which the poet complains of the vicissitudes of fate. It begins with the verse:

On my eyes there are no spectacles for the sake of writing,
My eyes became four for the sake of two pieces of bread.

It seems certain that these melancholy verses are by Mir-'Ali (for a more extended translation, see p. 36 in this volume).

"To become four-eyed" is an idiom that means "to have the greatest longing." The poem, in which the writer complains that he can no longer distinguish rose and thorn, spring and autumn, is one of the first instances of the use of the word 'aynak (spectacles) in Persian poetry. The word became very popular in the poetry of the late sixteenth century, and miniatures from that time show artists wearing small spectacles.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS RECTO page has the margin number 8 and so belongs to Group A. Its border system, however, is not related to that of any other folio in the Kevorkian Album. In the first place, the figure of the emperor and his environment take up considerably more space than the usual portrait, and when the portrait is surrounded by cutout verses in the innermost border and scrolling gold palmette and floral forms on the inner border, there is little room left on the outer border. This outer border is decorated with flowering plants in gold in a somewhat sketchy but assured style on a pale buff ground.

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


1. Beach, Milo Cleveland. The Grand Mogul: Imperial Painting in India, 1600–1660. Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1978, p. 113.

2. Likely sources for the cherubs are such prints as The Crowning of the Virgin by Johannes Sadeler I after J. Stradanus, for which see
Scheffer, Dieuwke de Hoop, comp. Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts, ca. 1450–1700. Vols. 21, 22. Ed. K. G. Boon. Amsterdam, 1980, no. 308.

3· Terrestrial divinities are frequent partners of Vishnu's avatars; see Gonda, Aspects of Early Vishnuism, pp. 27ff. In the Vishnu Purana, the Earth (Prithvi) is referred to as Madhavi (the bride of Madhava, i.e., Vishnu) [Wilson, Horace Hayman. The Vishnu Purana: A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition. 1840. Reprint of 3d ed. Calcutta, 1972, p. 27]. I am grateful to Dr. 'Ali Asani for this information. For a miniature of Shahjahan bestowing a Muslim bridegroom's veil (sahra) upon Prince Dara-Shikoh, see the Windsor Padshahnama, fol. 123 v.

4· For Govardhanesque pictures ascribable to Chitarman, see A Sufi Visiting Sivaite Ascetics, ca. 1635 (Brown, Percy. Indian Painting Under the Mughals. Oxford, 1924, pl. LII; also Beach, Grand Mogul, [note 1], p. 165); A Dervish, a Musician, and a Soldier (Arnold, Thomas W, and Wilkinson, J. V. S. The Library of A. Chester Beatty: A Catalogue of the Indian Miniatures. 3 vols. London, 1936, III, pl. 69);
and A Drinking Party, ca. 1660 (ibid.,, III, pl. 84). Other pictures attributable to him are in the Dara-Shikoh Album, now in the British Library (ms. I.O.L., Add. Or. 3129), for which see Falk, Toby, and Archer, Mildred. Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library. London, Delhi, Karachi, 1981, no. 68, fols. 4, 8, 17–19, 31–33, 35, 36, 52, 54, 60, and 72, most of which have been assigned by Falk and Archer to "Painter B."

5. For an inscribed portrait in the Morgan Library, New York, showing Dara-Shikoh within an oval aura, see Beach, Grand Mogul (note 1),
pp. 112–13; an equestrian portrait of Dara-Shikoh rightly attributed by Beach is in the Keir Collection (Robinson, B. W.; Grube, E. J.; Meredith-Owens, G. M.; and Skelton, R. W. Islamic Painting and the Arts of the Book [in] the Keir Collection. London, 1976, v. 71; for a jewel-portrait of Dara-Shikoh by Chitarman, see Falk and Archer, Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, (note 4), no. 71.

6. For the artist's characteristic treatment of fingers and proportions, see the Morgan Library portrait of Dara-Shikoh referred to in note 5 above.
For Chitarman's Padshahnama miniature in the Art Institute of Chicago (no. 1975.555), see Beach, Grand Mogul, (note 1), p. 83. For an early nineteenth-century traced drawing touched with color of this miniature, also ascribed to Chitarman, see Loan Exhibition of Antiquities: Coronation Durbar, 1911. Delhi Museum of Archaeology, [1911], no. C.132, pl. XLIIb.
Signature: recto:
In Persian, on platform: Work of Chitarman, the divine year one.

Marking: recto:
Margin number '8' 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]
University Gallery, University of Florida. "Miniatures and Small Sculptures from India," April 10, 1966–May 29, 1966, no. 82.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "In the Presence of Kings," April 19, 1967–September 4, 1967, no. 30.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Emperor's Album: Images of Mughal India," October 21, 1987–February 14, 1988, nos. 57 and 58.

Canberra. National Gallery of Australia. "The Vision of Kings: Art and Experience in India," November 25, 1995–February 4, 1996, no. 96.

Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "The Vision of Kings: Art and Experience in India," February 23, 1996–April 28, 1996, no. 96.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Indian Court Painting," March 25, 1997–July 6, 1997, no. 24.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era," November 20, 1997–March 1, 1998, fig. 8.

University Gallery, University of Florida. "April 10th thru May 29th, 1966." In Miniatures and Small Sculptures from India. 1966. no. 82.

In the Presence of Kings: Royal Treasures from the Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1967. no. 30, ill. pl. 30 (b/w).

Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). pp. 44-45, ill. p. 44 ((b/w).

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. 57, 58, pp. 198-201, ill., verso pl. 57 (b/w); recto pl. 58 (color).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 147-48, ill. fig. 113 (color).

Brand, Michael. "Art and Experience in India." In The Vision of Kings. Canberra, Australia: National Gallery of Australia, 1995. no. 96, p. 138, ill. p. 138 (color).

Kossak, Steven M., ed. Indian Court Painting 16th–19th century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 24, pp. 13, 53-54, ill. pl. 24 (color), fig. 6 (color).

Walker, Daniel S. Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. p. 22, ill. fig. 8 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 154, ill. fig. 29 (color).

Haidar, Navina, and Courtney Stewart. "Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection." In Treasures from India. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 44, ill. (color).

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