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"Shah Shuja with a Beloved", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Artist:
Painting by Govardhan (active ca. 1596–1645)
Object Name:
Album leaf
Date:
verso: ca. 1632; recto: ca. 1530–50
Geography:
Attributed to India
Medium:
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions:
H. 15 5/16 in. (38.9 cm) W. 10 1/4 in. (26 cm)
Classification:
Codices
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
55.121.10.35
Not on view
55.121.10.35 verso–Shah Shuja' with a Beloved

INSCRIBED: (on border in Shahjahan's hand)
"work ['amal] of Govardhan"

ALBEIT IDEALIZED, this lightly mustached prince is identifiable as Shah Shuja' (1616–60), who was Jahangir's favorite grandson and who spent most of his life as governor of Bengal. He lived in contented, near-imperial splendor, writing verses, encouraging musicians, and ruling with admirable clemency and justice–until his brother Aurangzeb seized the throne in 1658. In 1659 Shah Shuja' and his large army were defeated by the imperial forces at Khajua, near Allahabad. He was forced to withdraw to Bengal; two years later, hounded into Assam by Aurangzeb's armies, he and his family and a small number of loyal retainers disappeared from history.

Studded with jewels and pearls, luxuriant with transparent, gold-threaded muslins, enriched with flowers, brocaded arabesques, and the agreeable stains of scented unguents, Govardhan's lovers nevertheless seem to have inspired the artist only in fits and starts. If the beloved's sweetly passionate face, inviting gestures, and wind-swept dopatta caught Govardhan's fancy, the coarse-handed, slightly simpering prince–whose appearance had changed in adolescence from beguiling boyishness to prematurely middle-aged heaviness–apparently did not. While her expression is fresh with conviction, his smile is cloying and his eyes are theatrically fixed heavenward rather than on the joys at hand. But it is presumptuous to question passages in a painting made for Shahjahan by his most serious artist. Rather than applying our own standards, we should recall that to this day in Indian theater, dance, and art facial expressions of unquestionable sincerity sometimes seem overdramatized to the uninitiated.[1]

The prince's inamorata is not his wife, the daughter of Mirza Rustam Safavi of the royal house of Iran, whose aristocratic mien is well known from a wedding portrait by Balchand datable to 1633.[2]

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE INNER BORDER of palmettes, leafy fronds, and flower heads is wider and more elaborate than usual. The outer border contains gold flowering plants on a pink ground. The plant below the center on the outer border's right edge is probably a stylized rose; the buds are correctly rendered, but the leaves are wrong. There is no cutout poetry.

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

Footnotes:

1. This is especially evident in the artfully contorted visages of singers of ghazals (Persian and Indian love songs), which might seem unsympathetic to foreigners but which occasionally move Indians to tears.

2. Welch, Stuart Cary. A Flower from Every Meadow. New York, Asia Society, 1973, no. 65; Welch, Stuart Cary. Imperial Mughal Painting. New York, 1978, pl. 35; Beach, Milo Cleveland. The Grand Mogul: Imperial Painting in India, 1600–1660. Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1978, no. 31.

55.121.10.35 recto–Calligraphy

No one careless has ever seen prosperity
Or the face of rest and propriety.
Before it [i.e., patience?] count the enemy like a mirage
Or count him like mercury and the sun [i.e., vanishing and
unreal].

The poem is followed by the Arabic quotation:
"He–peace be upon him–said: 'Make presents to each other and have mutual love.'" This is, according to the wording of the blessing formula, a saying of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first imam of the Shia, whose Forty Sayings was transformed into poetry by several poets, including Jami.

The page is surrounded by a poem by Tusi and verses by Hilali.


Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS RECTO page has an inner border of gold on a pink ground and an outer border of flowering plants in colors on a buff ground. The plant in the center of the lower border may be a Galanthus.The border scheme of this folio does not correspond to any other in Group B.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987]
Inscription: 55.121.10.35 verso:
In Persian, under painting in outermost border (in Shah Jahan's hand): Work of Govardhan.

Marking: 55.121.10.35 verso:
Margin number '44' is inscribed in the gilt margin.
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (in 1929; sale, Sotheby's London,December 12, 1929, no. 128, 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. 63 and 64.

Sotheby's: Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures. London: Sotheby's, New York, 1929. no. 128.

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. 63, 64, pp. 210-213, ill., verso pl. 63 (b/w); recto pl. 64 (b/w).

Okada, Amina. Imperial Mughal Painters: Indian Miniatures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Paris: Flammarion, 1992. p. 192, ill. fig. 227 (b/w), verso.

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.



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