Art/ Collection/ Art Object

"Dervish Leading a Bear", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Object Name:
Album leaf
recto: early 19th century; verso: later copy of 16th century original
Attributed to India
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 15 3/16 in. (38.6 cm)
W. 10 1/4 in. (26 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
Not on view verso–Calligraphy

Oh pity! Grief has made my face like straw [i.e., pale].
Lament! The days of life became so short!
Your lack of favor made me die from grief–
If you would show some favor, it's high time.
The poor [faqir] Mir-'Ali

The poem is surrounded by a ghazal by Sa 'di and two verses, which are not found in Furughi's edition.

The calligraphy looks somewhat too crisp for Mir'-Ali. Found on the verso side of a nineteenth-century miniature, it is also probably of a later date.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE SCHEME here–flowers in colors on a buff ground–matches a seventeenth-century leaf ( MMA fol. 10v; pl. 75 in this volume). Here a lily (Hemeroulia cult.) is identifiable in the lower right, and the large plant next to it is a chrysanthemum. An iris can be seen just below the center of the inner border. The borders of this leaf are considerably finer than most of the later copies, and the leaf follows the proper scheme of a portrait on one side and calligraphy on the other.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987] recto–Dervish Leading a Bear

INSCRIBED (in almost faded nasta'liq): (on the
left side) "work ['amal] of Govardhan"

BECAUSE the original by Govardhan is also in the Kevorkian Album (MMA fol. 10r; pl. 76 in this volume), it is convenient to compare this version to it. As usual in India, where it was traditional for later artists or musicians to re-create or reinterpret earlier themes rather than to reproduce them exactly, the early nineteenth-century painter merely based his work on a charba of the original. This tracing provided the theme and assured a degree of accuracy of silhouette, proportion, and coloring (the last was usually noted by small blobs of pigment or by words). Once the later artist had laid in the outlines and determined the essential colors, he was free to improvise. Since it was not his intention to make a precise copy, he put away the original (if it was available to him) and allowed his brush and spirit to wander.

The nineteenth-century Delhi artist's characterization of the dervish differs greatly from Govardhan's. The painfully introverted figure has become healthily optimistic and outgoing. His scabs have healed; cheek and chin are no longer stubbled; his hangdog mouth has taken on a welcoming, even coy smile. If the troubled young man once averted his glance, now reborn he looks the viewer manfully in the eye. He seems to have exchanged moods with the bear, which in the seventeenth century trotted along with a smile but now expresses sullen disapproval. Perhaps it resents being moved from a remote heath into a picturesque landscape dotted with flowers, succulents, and quaint
buildings–an ambience better suited to a young man dressed for a costume party.

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE SURROUNDING verses, which are fragments from a mathnavi in the hazaj meter, are not cut out but written on the paper.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

SIMULATED cutout verses occupy the innermost border; the second border has an oval palmette scroll in gold on pink. The outer border of gold plants on a blue ground is as densely arranged as seventeenth-century borders but lacks their graceful proportions and felicitous placement of elements. A tulip can be recognized in the upper right, with an iris lower down and a narcissus near the lower right comer. The larger plant next to the narcissus may be a lily, while the plant in the lower left comer is a narcissus variant. In the outer border the second large plant from the top may be a lily, and in the upper border the second large plant from the right is a cyclamen variant.

It is unclear why the compiler of the Kevorkian Album would have inserted a late copy of a seventeenth-century painting in the same album as the original. The motivation for the copies would seem to have been a wish to expand the existing Mughal albums in order to have more albums for the art market. While some of the later copies were made with considerable care, one can only surmise that the reassembling of the albums was done with unseemly haste or the reassembling was repeated at a still later date when the original motive was forgotten.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987]
Signature: recto:
In Persian nasta'liq script, along left edge of painting: Work of Govardhan. verso:
In Persian, in lower left corner triangle under main calligraphy: Faqir Mir 'Ali.
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (in 1929; sale, Sotheby's London,December 12, 1929, no. 140, 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. 95 and 96.

Sotheby's: Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures. London: Sotheby's, New York, 1929. no. 140.

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. 95, 96, pp. 274- 277, ill., verso pl. 95 (b/w); recto pl. 96 (color).

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