"Portrait of Muhammad Ali Baig", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album, Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

"Portrait of Muhammad Ali Baig", 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 1/4 in. (38.7 cm)
W. 10 3/8 in. (26.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
Not on view verso–Muhammad 'Ali Beg

INSCRIBED lin fair nasta'liq): shabih-i Muhammad
'Ali Beg ilchi, 'amal-i Hashim (portrait
of Muhammad 'Ali Beg, the ambassador, by

MUHAMMAD 'ALl BEG was sent by Shah Safi of Iran as ambassador to the court of Shahjahan in 1631. The first mention of him in the court histories occurs when he leaves Agra to come to Shahjahan at Balaghat. Makramat Khan is dispatched with a robe of honor for the ambassador and charged with escorting him to Malwa, whence Mu'taqid Khan, the governor of Malwa, would accompany him to Shahjahan.[1] When he was presented to the emperor in March1631 and Shah Safi's letter of congratulation was read in court, the ambassador was presented with a robe of honor, a turban ornament, a bejeweled dagger, golden trays, a betel-leaf box, and a gold-plated goblet set worth twenty thousand rupees. Amanat Khan was deputed to accompany him to Burhanpur.[2]

In April 1632 the ambassador's envoy, Amir Beg, made the official presentation of Shah Safi's gifts to the Mughal emperor, including "fifty fleet-footed, hot-blooded, Iranian-born, Arabian-bred horses and other rarities of that land, such as the costliest of fabrics and rarest of goods, which his agents had sent from Iran; and all of these, by way of presentation, were dispatched, delivered and passed before the most glorious gaze [of the emperor]. Out of the extreme favor that had chanced to fall upon him, they were approved and the rays of the sun of acceptability shone upon them."[3] The following month the ambassador himself, having been granted permission to proceed from Burhanpur to Agra, was received at court.[4]

In October 1633 the ambassador was presented with a robe of honor of gold cloth, a jewel-studded belt, a pair of elephants, and a silver bowl and was given leave to return to Iran.[5] The last mention of him in the Mughal histories occurs in the description of a mission on which he was sent by the Persian shah to accompany Nazr-Muhammad Khan, the deposed Uzbek ruler, to court at Isfahan.[6]

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

THINLY PAINTED, in colors wholly lacking the radiant purity admired by Shahjahan, this miniature is a line-for-line copy of the original painting by Hashim from the Minto Album (V&A 25–1925). Hashim's sympathetic response to the sitter is apparent even in this replica, which also conveys the original artist's innovative success in depicting the ambassador's portliness and characteristic stance. Although both original and copy have floral borders, no attempt was made to imitate the "planting" of the original in the copy. The copyist added pleasing birds to the inner border.[7]

A miniature attributable to La'lchand in the Windsor Padshahnama (fol. 97v) shows Muhammad-'Ali Khan received in audience by Shahjahan, who is also attended by his four sons. In the foreground Iranian servants bear trays laden with imperial gifts, presumably some of those presented at the time of the ambassador's leave-taking in 1633.

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE PAINTING is surrounded by a fragment from a narrative mathnavi in the mutaqarib meter; the script is contemporary with the miniature.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE VERSES surrounding this portrait are written directly on the page but outlined as if cut out. The palmette and flower-head border in gold on blue is not as sloppy as those of other late copies, but the blue is too dark. In the outer border the second plant from the bottom has a rose-type flower and the plant above it a cyclamen-type flower. Above that again is a primula. There are two plants above the primula; above these is a narcissus-type flower, but the rest is wrong for a narcissus. These plants are again not as badly drawn as in other late borders but are still very weak when compared with seventeenth-century borders. Of the birds in the medallions separating the poetry, an egret (Egretta species?) can be identified in the lower corner medallions.

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


1. Muhammad-Salih Kanbo Lahawri. 'Amal-i salih. Ed. Ghulam Yazdani. 3 vols. Calcutta, 1923–39, I, p. 425.

2. Ibid., I, p. 427.

3. Ibid., I, p. 480.

4· Ibid., I, p. 487.

5. Ibid., I, p. 504, and Abd al-Hamid Lahawri. Padshahnama dar ahwal-i Abu'lMuzaffar Shihab al-Din Muhammad Shahiahan Padshah. Ed. Mawlawi Kabir al-Din Ahmad and Mawlawi 'Abd al-Rahim. Calcutta, 1867–78, 1, p. 440.

6. Muhammad-Salih Kanbo Lahawri. 'Amal-i salih. Ed. Ghulam Yazdani. 3 vols. Calcutta, 1923–39, II, p. 528. There is another portrait of Muhammad 'Ali Beg in an album page in the Victoria and Albert Museum (25–1925); see Beach, Milo Cleveland. The Grand Mogul: Imperial Painting in India, 1600–1660. Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1978, p. 74.

7. See Pinder-Wilson, Ralph H., with Smart, Ellen, and Barrett, Douglas. Paintings from the Muslim Courts of India. London, British Museum, 1976, no. 130. recto–Jungle Fowl

INSCRIBED (in small nasta'liq): "Nadir al-'asr
Jahangirshahi, servant of the palace, Ustad

WAS THIS skimpy copy of a pugnacious bird (Gallus gallus) intentionally placed on the reverse of the Persian ambassador's portrait when it was added to the album in the early nineteenth century? Marie L. Swietochowski has pointed out that a livelier and finer seventeenth-century version of this miniature, perhaps Mansur's original, shows the bird isolated against bare paper.[1]

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE PICTURE is surrounded by a poem by Tusi and another love poem without a signature. The calligraphy appears contemporary with the painting but seems to have been copied from another page with cutout fragments–perhaps the original page with the bird.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS PAGE's blue-and-gold outer border is by the same hand as that of the verso. Although the border is not as poor as several of the other early nineteenth-century copies, the drawing here is weak, as it is on the verso, and the background color is dead and dull in both. In the upper left corner is perhaps a cyclamen-type plant. The third plant in from the left has a rose-type bud. Below it and further right is a tulip, while above the tulip and slightly to the right is perhaps a narcissus and to the right and slightly below it, possibly a cyclamen. At the left edge of the outer border, slightly below the middle, is an iris-type plant.

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


1. See Wilkinson, J. V. S. Mughal Painting. London, 1948, pl. I, p. 24.
Inscription: verso:
In Persian, along left border: Portrait of Muhammad Ali Baig, the ambassador, work of Hashim. recto:
In Persian, in small nasta'liq along right border: Nadir al-Asr Jahangir-shahi, servant of the palace, Ustad Mansur.
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. 87 and 88.

Pinder-Wilson, Ralph, Douglas Barrett, and Ellen Smart. Paintings from the Muslim Courts of India, Prints and Drawings. London: World of Islam Festival, 1976. no. 130, p. 75, ill. p. 75.

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. 87, 88, pp. 258-261, ill., verso pl. 87 (b/w); recto pl. 88 (b/w).