Art/ Collection/ Art Object

A Bejewelled Maiden with a Parakeet

Object Name:
Illustrated single work
ca. 1670–1700
Country of Origin India, Golconda, Deccan
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Image: H. 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm) W. 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Cynthia Hazen Polsky, 2011
Accession Number:
Not on view
This young beauty seen through a cusped arch has been idealized as the daughter of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. The convention of a woman holding a parakeet is seen in Deccan painting and textiles and is also known from a long standing tradition in Indian sculpture; here the prominent use of gold is typical of Deccan taste. The bird sits on the maiden’s henna-reddened fingers, each one of which is separately adorned by a diamond ring.

Seen through a cusped arch, this young beauty holding a parakeet in her jeweled hand is perhaps an allegory for the gul-o-bulbul, or the rose and nightingale. In Persian mystical poetry, the nightingale was the traditional lover of the rose, symbolized here by the beautiful girl.[1] Pink roses cover the golden cloth under the maiden’s left arm, and her trousers are adorned with pink flowers on a gold ground, further reinforcing this symbolism. An inscription identifies her as Zib al-Nisa, daughter of Emperor ‘Alamgir (reigned 1658–1707), but this is likely a later addition. In a comparable, mirror-reversed composition in the San Diego Museum of Art (1990.489), the woman does not wear garments ornamented with roses, but her transparent blouse is rose-colored. These two works belong to a larger group of similar compositions, including an example in the Cincinnati Art Museum and one in a private collection.[2]

Courtney Stewart in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)


1- Zebrowski, Mark, "Deccani Painting". London: Sotheby’s; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983 p. 201.

2- See Seated Lady Holding a Flower, Cincinnati Art Museum (1991.139); for the work in a private collection, see Kramrisch, Stella, "Painted Delight: Indian Paintings in Philadelphia Collections. Exh. cat. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986, p. 37, no. 32.
Inscription: Inscribed above in Persian: “Portrait of Zeb al-Nisa, daughter of ‘Alamgir”
[ John Lawrence Fine Arts Inc., London, until 1990; sold to Polsky]; Cynthia Hazen Polsky, New York (1990–2011; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20, 2015–July 26, 2015, no. 172.

Topsfield, Andrew. "Selections from the Polsky Collections and the Metropolitan Museum of Art." In In the Realms of Gods and Kings: Arts of India. New York, 2004. no. 142, pp. 322-3, ill. p. 323 (color).

Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "Opulence and Fantasy." In Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. no. 172, p. 296, ill. pl. 172 (color).

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