Art/ Collection/ Art Object

"Page of Calligraphy Illuminated with Animals and Plants in a Field of Flowers", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Mir 'Ali Haravi (d. ca. 1550)
Painting by Nanha
Object Name:
Album leaf
verso: ca. 1610–15; recto: ca.1535–45
Attributed to India
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 15 1/16 in. (38.3 cm)
W. 10 5/16 in. (26.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
Not on view
Many of the pages of calligraphy have been attributed to Mir 'Ali of Herat, a famed calligrapher trained in the style of the great Persian calligrapher, Sultan 'Ali of Mashhad. The latter was known both for his poetry, primarily composed in quatrains, and his calligraphy, the majority of which is in Persian. Mir 'Ali, an artist of the Timurid court, was greatly admired, and avidly collected, by Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
As seen here, works of calligraphy and painting from earlier eras were commonly included in Mughal-era albums and reset within contemporary Mughal margins. In this case, the margin, as well as the illumination surrounding the calligraphy, probably date from the seventeenth century, and the decoration of the delicately rendered flowering plants and grazing animals accords with such a dating.

Four Folios from the Emperor's Album (nos., .13, .21,.4r)

This celebrated imperial Mughal album (muraqqa‘), known as the Shah Jahan, or Emperors’, Album originally consisted of fifty leaves containing paintings, illuminated pages, and calligraphy. Thirty-nine of these date from the seventeenth century, while the remaining eleven date from the early nineteenth century. Of the earlier folios, the first few were commissioned by Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605–27), but it was under the patronage of his son Shah Jahan (r. 1627–58) that most of the leaves were added. The nineteenth-century folios contain copies of the earlier subjects as well as some new compositions. This album belongs to a family of related imperial albums that share similar formats and subject matter, most notably the so-called Wantage and Minto albums in British collections, particularly the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.

Most of the calligraphic panels in the Shah Jahan Album were executed by the sixteenth-century Persian master Mir ‘Ali Haravi, who first practiced his art at Herat and later at Bukhara. His writing was so prized in Mughal India that it was collected, mounted in albums, and illuminated. Here (no., the illumination takes on a special character, departing from the more usual arabesque-based motifs seen in Indo-Persian ornament and moving toward a naturalism typical of Mughal painting.[1] The inclusion of natural life as part of the decoration of text pages is also seen in an earlier Mughal Gulistan of Sa‘di in the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London, which contains over two thousand bird images.[2] In the Museum’s folio, six lines of Persian poetry written out by Mir ‘Ali in nasta‘liq script are set against a burnished gold ground that contains landscape features as well as various animals and birds, including a pair of sambar deer, nilgai antelope, white goats, mynah birds, robins, starlings, egrets, and shrikes. The lyrical poetry framing the composition is by the poet Hilali Chughata’i (two couplets are in Chagatai Turkish).

Recorded observations of the emperors Babur (r. 1526–30) and Jahangir reflect the Mughal interest in the natural world; indeed, modern science has recognized the latter as having made at least two original contributions to zoology.[3] Jahangir’s remarkably acute interests in the flora and fauna of India are expressed in the sensitive natural studies produced by his leading artist, Mansur, as demonstrated in this album by the nilgai, or blue bull (no., one of several such works therein.[4] This beast may have roamed in Jahangir’s zoological garden, where Mansur, a multifaceted artist who earlier in his career had been trained in the art of illumination, would have been able to record details such as the broken horn and the whorl of hair at the base of the animal’s neck (the slightly less detailed brushwork on the body of the beast, however, may indicate the hand of an assistant). While this natural study depicts a relatively humble subject, a local animal, other works by Mansur portray more exotic creatures, including a zebra (which arrived at court as a gift in 1616), a turkey-cock (arriving in 1612), and a chameleon.[5] Although Mansur was not the only artist who addressed such natural themes, he was an acknowledged master of the genre, gaining mention in Jahangir’s memoirs and earning the title Nadir al-‘Asr, Wonder of the Age.

Grand compositions such as no., which shows a bejeweled Shah Jahan with a radiating nimbus astride a magnificent pie-bald stallion, were part of the imperial Mughal image disseminated around the world.[6] The ruler’s firm black ink inscription names the artist as Payag, further confirmed by a recently discovered artist’s signature in a minuscule inscription located on the extension of the saddle.[7] In many ways the hard-edged formality of this composition epitomizes the Shah Jahan painting style, yet demonstrated equally is Payag’s facility with royal portraiture, a somewhat rare genre for him. This crystalline imperial likeness and the layering of patterns and shapes in the area of the saddlecloth stand in contrast to the artist’s use of smoky landscapes, dark tones, and washy colors in the Padshahnama (Royal Library, Windsor).[8] Of note is the subtle radiance around the point of the emperor’s spear. Also appearing in folios of that royal manuscript is the emperor’s same piebald steed.[9] This particular formula of Shah Jahan in equestrian mode proved to have lasting popularity, judging from the number of later copies made, including one in the Emperors’ Album itself.[10]

A shamsa (sun or sunburst in Arabic) traditionally opened or closed imperial Mughal albums. Worked in bright color, predominantly lapis, and several tones of gold, this meticulously designed and unerringly precise radiating medallion from the Shah Jahan Album ( is enriched by painted arabesques, fantastic flowers, cloud bands, birds, and insects. The Emperors’ Album contains two such masterpieces, this one centered around the name of Shah Jahan written in an elaborate tughra (cipher) style and its companion containing the seal imprint of his successor and later owner of the album, Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707). Specifically trained masters of ornament painted such illuminations. Although many Iranian prototypes for this rosette can be cited, the Mughal shamsa differs from them in its heightened three-dimensionality and warm coloring.[11] The importance of solar symbolism in many aspects of Indian and Islamic visual representation and courtly life made such radiating motifs particularly meaningful to their royal patrons.[12]

Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]


1. Welch 1987, pp. 124–25, no. 22.

2. The Art of the Book in India. Exhibition, British Library, Reference Division, London. Catalogue by Jeremiah P. Losty. London, 1982, p. 87, no. 58.

3. Alvi, M. A., and A. Rahman. Jahangir: The Naturalist. The National Institute of Sciences of India Monograph, 3. New Delhi, 1968, p. 5.

4. Published in Welch 1987, pp. 178–81, no. 47; Welch 1985, p. 216, no. 142; Welch 1987, p. 145, no. 111.

5. The Grand Mogul: Imperial Painting in India, 1600–1660. Exhibition, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass.; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Asia House Gallery, New York. Catalogue by Milo Cleveland Beach, with Stuart Cary Welch and Glenn D. Lowry. Williamstown, Mass., 1978., pp. 137–43, provides a list of the artist’s major works; see also
Blunt, Wilfred. “The Mughal Painters of Natural History.” The Burlington Magazine 90, no. 539 (February 1948), pp. 48–50.

6. Published in Welch 1987, pp. 202–3, no. 59.

7. A recent examination of the painting by Robert Elgood resulted in this new discovery.

8. See “The Two Worlds of Payag—Further Evidence on a Mughal Artist.” In Indian Art and Connoisseurship: Essays in Honour of Douglas
Barrett, edited by John Guy, pp. 320–41. New Delhi, 1995. for a discussion of Payag’s style.

9. King of the World: The Padshahnama, an Imperial Mughal Manuscript from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. Exhibition, National Museum of India, New Delhi, and other venues. Catalogue by Milo Cleveland Beach and Ebba Koch with Wheeler [M.] Thackston. London and Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 52, no. 17, pp. 72–75, no. 29.

10. Welch 1987, p. 257, no. 86.

11. Ibid., pp. 80–81, no. 1; p. 149, no. 114; Welch 1985, pp. 236–37, no. 156.

12. Skelton, Robert. “Imperial Symbolism in Mughal Painting.” In Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World: Papers from A Colloquium in Memory of Richard Ettinghausen, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 2–4 April 1980, edited by Priscilla P. Soucek, pp. 177–91. University Park, Pa., and London, 1988, pp. 181–82. verso–Sayf Khan Barha

SAYYID 'Ali-ASGHAR, son of Sayyid Mahmud Khan Barha of the Barha Sayyids, who played a prominent role in the Mughal aristocracy; was a favorite of Jahangir from his days as a prince. In 1606 Jahangir wrote in his memoirs: "I have bestowed on 'Ali-Asghar Barha, who has not a rival in bravery and zeal, ... the title of Sayf Khan and thus distinguished him among his equals and peers. He seems to be a very brave youth and was always one of those few confidants who went with me on hunts and other places. He has never in his life drunk anything intoxicating. Inasmuch as he has maintained this practice during his youth, he will soon attain high dignities."[1]

In the first year of Jahangir's reign, Sayf Khan distinguished himself in a battle against Prince Khusrau near Lahore. His rank was increased over the years, and he was deputed with Prince Khurram (Shahjahan) in the campaign against Rana Amar Singh of Mewar in the eighth year of Jahangir's reign. In the tenth year he was attached to Prince Parviz in the Deccan campaign. He died in 1616 (eleventh year of Jahangir's reign) of cholera.

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

LIKE SHAHJAHAN, Nanha admired Sayf Khan Barha's rugged strength and integrity, characteristics evident from his solid stance and straight-forward expression. Nanha was an artist of deep conviction who more than any other Mughal painter appeals to our sense of touch.
By exaggerating the fullness of chests, upper arms, or thighs and compacting or attenuating proportions, he sacrificed accuracy to increase empathy. We feel the pressure of Sayf Khan's firm grip on his sword; indeed, so fully does Nanha's picture awaken our senses that we prick our ears for Sayf Khan's voice.

Although Nanha's pictures followed the changes of Mughal style from the 1580s into the first decade of Shahjahan's reign, his work is also identifiable by his treatment of such details as hands and faces and by his knack for entering the spirits of his subjects.[2]

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al 1987]

THE MINIATURE is surrounded by a mystical mathnavi in Chagatay Turkish. The lower lines carry the name Sam (i.e., Sam Mirza, the art-loving Safavid prince who was for some years in charge of the city of Herat). There is an isolated verse at the end.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS VERSO PORTRAIT bears the margin number 5 and belongs to Group A. The plants, gold on a blue ground, are separated by tiny plants and grass tufts. A single insect appears in the lower margin. The added dimension of color would help here in the identification of hands. It certainly displays a very different painting style from the dense, almost wild treatment of MMA fol. r (pl. 66 in this volume

A tulip appears in the left margin and as a small plant at the top center. There is a narcissus in the upper left corner. Poppy types appear in the two plants in the top middle, in the upper right comer, and perhaps second in from the lower right corner, although the flowers are not quite right. The plant in the lower right corner can be identified as a· cyclamen type by its flowers although the leaves are wrong. The second plant from the left in the lower margin may possibly be identified as Lilium fritillaria.

The birds in the branches around the cutout calligraphy surrounding the portrait have been identified as follows: rose-ringed parakeet(?); Psittacule krameri(?), in the middle of the right side; magpie robin (Copsychus saularis), at the bottom at the left; Brahminy myna (Sturnus pagodarum), second from the top, left margin.

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


1.. Jahangir Gurkani, Nur al-Din Muhammad. Jahangirnama: Tuzuk-i Jahangiri. Ed. Muhammad Hashim. Teheran, A.H. 1349/ A.D. 1970, p. 19. See also 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, II, pp. 692ff.

2. For an extensive survey of Nanha's work, see Beach, Milo Cleveland. The Grand Mogul: Imperial Painting in India, 1600–1660. Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1978, pp. 147–50.

MMA recto–Calligraphy

A true man should, where'er he be,
Preserve his honor well;
Show no conceit or foolishness
Or selfish pride in life
And act so that nobody's hair
Is touched or hurt by him.

The same poem is found in CB 7/37v.

The page is surrounded by a ghazal by Hilali and a quatrain; above and below is one line of Chagatay Turkish poetry in a very elegant hand, which may well be that of Sultan-'Ali Mashhadi.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al 1987]

THE BORDER of gold plants on a pink ground has very much the same arrangement of plants as the verso, but they are not identifiable. The birds surrounding the cutout verses bordering the main calligraphy panel have been identified as follows: great gray shrike (?) (Lanius excubitor [?]), right side at top; egret (Egretta species?), middle of right side; common myna (?) (Acridotheria tristis [?]) pair, lower right side; magpie robin (Copsychus saularis) pair, bottom, female at left, male at right; red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) pair, lower left side; Brahminy starling (Sturnus pagodarum) pair, middle of left side; white-throated Munia (Lonchura malabarica) pair, upper left side. The animals surrounding the central calligraphy verses are, from bottom to top, a pair of sambars (Cervus); perhaps a pair of nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), and a pair of goats (Capra).

The stylistic differences between these borders and those of MMA fol. (pls. 65 and 66 in this volume) do not militate against their belonging to the same original album since their numbers indicate that they would have been widely separated. This folio, however, could not have belonged to the album called number 3 here, because it would have to have had a gold-on-pink color scheme on the portrait side. If, as is possible, the albums designated I and 3 were actually one album, these two leaves must have belonged to a different album. For convenience these two leaves will be called Album 4.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987]
Signature: recto:
In Persian, last line of main calligraphy: Mir 'Ali.

Inscription: Recto:
Inscription in Persian in fine nasta‘liq scriptscript, three couplets by Ibn Yaqmin:
مرد باید که هر کجا باشد عزت خویشتن نگهدارد
خود پسندی و ابلهی نکند هر چه کبر و منیست بگذارد
بطریقی رود که مردم را سر مویی ز خود نیازارد
A true man should, wherever he is / Preserve his honor well;
Show no conceit or foolishness / Or selfish pride in life
And act so that nobody’s hair / Is touched or hurt by him
Mir ‘Ali

Marking: verso:
Margin number '5' is inscribed in the gilt margin.
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (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. 21 and 22.

Memoirs of Jahangir. London, 1829. p. 42.

Dimand, Maurice S. "An Exhibit of Islamic and Indian Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n. s., vol. 14 (December 1955). p. 100, ill. (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. 21, 22, pp. 122-125, ill., verso pl. 21 (b/w); recto pl. 22 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 250D, pp. 340, 358-360, ill. p. 359 (color).

Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 92, ill. fig. 79 (color).

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