Art/ Collection/ Art Object

"Red-Headed Vulture", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Object Name:
Album leaf
recto and verso: early 19th century
Attributed to India
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 15 1/8 in. (38.4 cm)
W. 10 1/4 in. (26 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
Not on view
55.121.25.verso–Red-Headed Vulture

INSCRIBED: "work ['amal] of the servant of the
palace Mansur Nadir al-'asr Jahangirshahi"

APPROPRIATELY placed on the verso of a gory portrait of 'Abdullah Khan Bahadur-Jang bearing the severed head of the traitorous Khan-Jahan Lodi, this vulture (Aegypius calvus) was copied from Mansur's original in the Kevorkian Album ( MMA fol. 12v; pl. 45 in this volume). Although the brushwork is meticulous, the copy fails to capture the menacing elegance of Mansur's superb miniature.

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE VERSES surrounding the picture are not cut out but written as a whole around the painting. They contain an ode to the Prophet Muhammad, "the one buried in Yathrib [i.e., Medina]" whose help the poet implores.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS DEPICTION of a red-headed vulture has a furriness and fuzziness not present in the original (MMA fol. 12v; pl. 45 in this volume). The inner border is a sloppily painted blue-on-gold scroll, while the outer border is an all-over design of palmette scrolls.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987] recto–'Abdullah Khan Bahadur-Jang

INSCRIBED (in very small nasta'liq): (at right)
shabih-i 'Abdullah Khan Bahadur-Jang; dar
dast sari Pir-i Afghan (a portrait of 'Abdullah
Khan Bahadur-Jang; in his hand he holds the
head of Pir the Afghan [Khan-Jahan Lodi]): (at
left) 'amal-i banda-i dargah ba-ikhlas Muhammad
'Alam (done by the devoted slave of
the court Muhammad 'Alam)

A DESCENDANT of the Naqshbandi saint Khwaja Ahrar (d. 1490) of Central Asia, Khwaja 'Abdullah came to India during Akbar's reign and served as a soldier in the Deccan under one of his relatives. He then joined Prince Salim (Jahangir) in Lahore, but since he could not get along with the prince's agent Sharif Khan he went into Akbar's service, where he was given the rank of 1000 and the title Safdar-Jang. Jahangir later writes of him: "Khwaja 'Abdullah, who is of the Naqshbandi order, was initially a footsoldier [in my service], and little by little his rank reached the 1000 mark. Without ostensible reason he went over to my father's service. Although I realized that it was to my own benefit for my retainers and men to go into his service, since he had done this without permission I was extremely annoyed. Nonetheless, despite such faithlessness, I confirmed him in the rank and fief my father had allowed him. The truth of the matter is that he is an ambitious fellow and brave fighter. Had he not committed this fault, he would have been flawless."[1]

Under Jahangir, 'Abdullah Khan was promoted eventually to the rank of 5000, given the title Bahadur-Jang, and made the governor of Gujarat. As a general in Jahangir's service he had his ups and downs and was in and out of favor many times, but he was well received
by Shahjahan upon his accession and was in charge of many military campaigns.

During the long and difficult pursuit by Shahjahan of Pir-Muhammad the Afghan, known as Khan-Jahan Lodi, and his fellow rebel Darya Khan, 'Abdullah Khan and Sayyid Muzaffar Khan Barba were in charge of the troops that finally caught up with and killed Khan-Jahan. The rebel's head was dispatched to court by 'Abdullah Khan (the subject of this portrait), who was given the rank of 6000 and the title Feroz-Jang. Toward the end of his life he was given the governorship first of Bihar and later of Allahabad. He died in 1644, aged nearly seventy.

In summing up his character, the author of the Maasir al-umara says that although 'Abdullah Khan had a streak of cruelty and tyranny in him, his men believed him capable of working miracles and used to make offerings to him.[2] He is also reported to have once boasted that whereas the Prophet of Islam had to go to a cotton-carder's house to beg him to become a Muslim, he ('Abdullah Khan) had once taken prisoner five lacs of men and women and forced them all to convert to Islam, and from their progeny "there will be krors by the time of Judgment Day."[3]

Wheeler M. Thackston in [Welch et al. 1987]

A FINER than usual copy, perhaps because the artist found the subject so compellingly dramatic, this miniature expresses some of the horror of Abu'l-Hasan's original.[4] Here, however, 'Abdullah Khan looks less than victorious, while Khan-Jahan Lodi smiles for no apparent reason. As usual, the nineteenth-century copyist did not strive for accuracy, employing a charba and incomplete and generalized color notations. Abu'l-Hasan's picture differs in many details. Although quiver and turban are orange, and pajamas and sleeves are crimson, the hues differ markedly. Moreover, the pectoral ornament in the earlier picture is adorned calligraphically rather than with jewels, and 'Abdullah
Khan's boots and leggings are silver, gold, and red, with silver instead of gold knee-guards. The ascription to Muhammad 'Alam, an artist otherwise unknown, may be an actual signature by one of the early nineteenth-century Delhi copyists

The disturbing moment of Khan-Jahan Lodi's death was lugubriously depicted for the Windsor Padshahnama (fol. 93v) by 'Abid, who signed himself as the brother of Nadir az-zaman.[5]

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE SCRIPT around the picture is not cut out but is written on the sheet. The poem is suitable for the picture–a battle scene–and begins with the line:

When the Khusrau [Day] drew his sword [i.e., when the Sun
killed the Night] ...

The mediocre calligraphy and the appropriateness of the poetical theme indicate that the poem was done at a later time, to give the painting an ancient look.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE INNER border of this recto page is an outlandish version of the palmette, flower-head, and leaf scroll with additions of red and blue to the gold; there are so many squiggles on the scroll that the blue ground is virtually obscured. The outer border is no better, with its palmette-scroll pattern, with lion masks in the center of the corner palmettes and outer center palmette. There is another portrait of the youthful 'Abdullah Khan (inscribed by Jahangir) in the Berlin Album (fol. 46), although there he is dressed differently and does not hold a severed head.[6]

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


1. Jahangir. The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri; or Memoirs of Jahangir. Trans. Alexander Rogers. Ed. Henry Beveridge. 2 vols. London, 1909–1914,
p. 16.

2. Shahnawaz Khan, Samsam al-Dawla, and 'Abd al-Hayy. Maasiru-l-umara; Being Biographies of the Muhammadan and Hindu Officers of the Timurid Sovereigns of India from 1500 to About 1780 A.D. Trans. H. Beveridge. Vols. 1, 2. Rev. ed. Calcutta, 1941–52, 1, p. 104.

3. Ibid., I, p. 105.

4· Abu'I-Hasan's painting is in the Minto Album (V&A 16–1925).

5;. See Welch, Stuart Cary. The Art of Mughal India: Painting and Precious Objects. New York, Asia Society, 1963, fig. 4.

6. See Kühnel, Ernst, and Goetz, Hermann. Indian Book Painting from Jahangir's Album in the State Library in Berlin. London, 1926, pl. 6.
Inscription: verso:
In Persian along right border: Work of the servant of the palace Mansur Nadir al-asr Jahangir-shahi. recto:
In Persian, in small nasta'liq script along right border: A portrait of Abdullah Khan Bahadur Jang; in his right hand he holds the head of Pir the Afghan.
In Persian in small nastaliq along left border: Done by the devoted slave of the court Muhammad Alam.
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (in 1929; sale, Sotheby's London,December 12, 1929, no. 114, 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. 89 and 90.

Sotheby's: Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures. London: Sotheby's, New York, 1929. no. 114.

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. 89, 90, pp. 262-265, ill., verso pl. 89 (b/w); recto pl. 90 (b/w).

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