Animal combats were a favorite form of entertainment at the Mughal court, viewed by the emperor, his courtiers, and guests from a terrace or rampart. Miskin, Akbar's best animal painter, may well have sketched this scene from life. While he has captured the excitement of the fiercely partisan royal servants on the ground, they look unsubstantial compared to the thrusting power of the buffaloes' bodies. The rounded haunch, the long straight line of the back, the bulging muscles of shoulder and neck of the animal on the left all point to inexorable victory, already sensed by the other, pushed off balance, with a foreleg curling under him. Only a great artist could give the struggle such a palpable presence.
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Title:Buffaloes in Combat
Artist:Attributed to Miskin (active ca. 1570–1604)
Date:late 16th century
Geography:Attributed to India
Medium:Ink, watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions:H. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm) W. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)
Credit Line:Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1983
Buffaloes in Combat
Muscles straining as they propel themselves against one another, the hulking masses of two bulls fill the center of this drawing, while a group of men, caught up in the action, swirl around the perimeter of the composition.
The drawing has been completed in the nim qalam style, in which elements are outlined in black and highlighted in certain areas with thin washes of color—here, white for the jamas and turbans and tiny dashes of red for lips and the ends of patkas and turban sashes. This style enjoyed popularity in the Mughal court in the late sixteenth century, when it was used for single-page works, for various illustrations in an Akbarnama of about 1596–97 (Chester Beatty Library, Dublin), a Tutinama (Beatty Library), Darabnama (British Library, London), burnama (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), Anvar-i suhaili (Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum, Varanasi), and the dispersed 1598–1600 Razmnama. The nim qalam drawings have been characterized as an approximation of the European grisaille paintings and drawings brought to India in the sixteenth century, but this type of drawing has more in common with examples produced in Iran at about the same time, particularly from Khurasan in the work of Muhammadi of Herat, which in turn may have been inspired by Chinese works.
This drawing has been attributed to the Mughal artist Miskin, whose father, Mahesh, and brother Asi also worked for Emperor Akbar on several of the royal manuscript projects of the 1580s. At first Miskin was a colorist (a junior position in the hierarchy of the Mughal workshop), but by the end of the decade he had risen to the position of designer. In this role he created several famed animal compositions, including another animal combat depicting a bull and a lion, on the basis of which the present drawing has been assigned to him. Although this attribution is still debated, various aspects of the drawing tie it to Miskin’s known works: a certain amount of space separates the buffaloes from the rest of the otherwise full composition, and the outthrust arms of the figures accentuate the action. In addition, several nim qalam works are attributed to Miskin, who appears to have been particularly interested in the expressive possibilities of this technique.
The size and shape of the drawing, as well as the abbreviation of the figures along the edges, indicate that it was probably part of a larger composition. Miskin’s bull and lion combat includes several other elements around the two central animals—a group of spectators, a rocky landscape with a city in the distance, and a group of Hindu ascetics in the woods. Similarly, the Buffaloes in Combat may have been surrounded by additional vignettes.
Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Listed in Seyller, John. "Model and Copy: The Illustration of Three Razmnama Manuscripts." Archives of Asian Art 38 (1985), pp. 37–66.
2. Stuart Cary Welch in Welch, Jenkins, and Kane 1983–84, pp. 6–7. When sold earlier, the drawing had been identified as "Indian School, 17–18th century" ( Sotheby’s New York, December 15, 1962, lot 285) or attributed to Farrukh Chela (Sotheby’s London, June 20, 1983, lot 143).
3. Miskin’s other animal compositions are a double-page hunting scene in the Akbarnama (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, no. IS. 2-1986, fols. 55, 56), two paintings in the Anvar-i Suhayli (Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum, Varanasi, no. 9069), and the detached folio, The Raven Addressing the Assembled Animals (British Museum, London, no. 1920, 0917, 0.5).
4. First illustrated in Welch, Stuart C[ary]."Mughal and Deccani Miniature Paintings from a Private Collection." Ars Orientalis 5 (1963), p. 224 and fig. 7 (now Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Mass., no. 1999.297). See From Mind, Heart, and Hand: Persian,Turkish, and Indian Drawings from the Stuart Cary Welch Collection. Exhibition, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco—Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture; Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Mass. Catalogue by Stuart Cary Welch and others. New Haven and London, 2004, pp. 86–87.
5. These include Prince Salim Being Attacked by a Wounded Lion, which is signed by Miskin (discussed in Welch, S. C. 1963, p. 224, see note 4 above), and two others attributed to him: Beasts, Real and Mythological on a Rocky Hillside (Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ms. 73 [I]) and The World of Animals (Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., no. 45.29).
Buffalos in Combat
These stamping, snorting buffaloes—two varieties of the same species—were drawn and tinted by Miskin, Akbar's best animal painter, in recollection of an actual combat staged for the entertainment of the emperor and members of his immediate circle. Animal combats, whether between elephants, buffaloes, tigers, or smaller beasts, were frequent events at court, viewed by the emperor and his guests from a terrace or rampart. Sketching from life, the artist must have sat near the noble onlookers, who took bets on the outcome—as did the animals' grooms—and encouraged their favorites with ardent loyalty.
Miskin's draftsmanly style is unmistakable, and his gift for conveying both the inner spirit and outer form of animals probably inspired Akbar to summon him for the present assignment. Not even the great Basawan, represented in this exhibition by his stunning elephant chase (Victoria and Albert Museum, London [I.S. 2-189621/117, 22/117], no. 88 in this volume), surpassed Miskin in capturing such dramatic details as the buffaloes' expressions of victorious exultation and gored despair. The loser in such a combat might be turned into a mashk—a leather waterbag, such as the one shown here being used to keep down the dust.
By delicate modulations of tone, achieved with invisibly small brushstrokes, Miskin modeled the animals' masks and bodies into tautly rounded forms reminiscent of Achaemenid animal reliefs, curvaceously ornamental yet starkly powerful. But unlike the Achaemenids, the Mughal stopped action at the most telling instant, and achieved a degree of empathy that enables us to hear the animals' bellowing.
Lt.-Col. Wingate Wemyss-Muir(until 1952; sale, Sotheby's, London,November 24, 1952, no. 107); Hagop Kevorkian, New York (until d. 1962; sale, Sotheby's NewYork, December 15, 1962, no. 285, to Heeramaneck); [ Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck, New York, from 1962; sold to Humann]; Christian Humann (Panasian Collection), New York(until 1983; sale, Sotheby's London,June 20, 1983, no. 143, to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "INDIA !," September 14–September 14, 1985, no. 103.
Dassi, Antonio. Illustrated Catalogue of the Uboldo Collection: Milan. Vol. 1. Milan.
"December 15, 1962." In Classical and Near Eastern Art Collected by the Late Hagop Kevorkian. New York: Sotheby's, New York, 1962. no. 285.
Sotheby's, London. "June 20, 1983." In Fine Oriental Miniatures and Manuscripts, including Drawings from the Pan Asian Collection. London, 1983. no. 143, ill, fig. 143 (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary, Marilyn Jenkins, and Carolyn Kane. "Islamic Art." M.M.A. Notable Acquisitions 1983–84 vol. 41 (1983–1984). pp. 6–7, ill. (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary. India: Art and Culture 1300–1900. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985. no. 103, p. 167, ill. (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 136, ill. fig. 104 (color).
Okada, Amina. Imperial Mughal Painters: Indian Miniatures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Paris: Flammarion, 1992. p. 137, ill. fig. 154 (b/w).
Schrader, Stephanie. Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018. p. 63, ill. fig. 40 (color).
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