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Prince Offering Wine to His Beloved: Page from the Diwan of Mir Ali Shir Nawa'i


Not on view

This folio from a manuscript edition of the Diwan of Nawa’i depicts a court scene in the subdued palette of the Safavid style. The kneeling youth receives the blessing of the nobleman seated in a palace interior with finely painted arabesque decor in the dome and spandrels; a beautiful flowering plant (or is it also a painting?) dominates the interior space. A vocalist and musicians provide entertainment. The vista with a pair of cyprus trees and a bird-filled sky beyond introduces a spatially ambiguous dimension to the composition, as does the crenulated turret with cupola occupied by an enigmatic couple who project above the picture frame.

About the Artist

Active ca. 1582–1620s, at the Mughal courts in Lahore, Delhi, Allahabad, and Agra; son of Basawan

Remarkably, two portraits of Manohar are preserved, one in which he is depicted as a young teenage apprentice already entrusted with commissions befitting more senior artists, and the other by his contemporary Daulat, painted some twenty-five years later. As the son of Basawan, Manohar had the title of khanazadan (born at court) and was privileged to gain an early entrée into the court atelier. His long career spanned four decades, two emperors, and the ateliers in Lahore, Delhi, Allahabad, and Agra. Like his eminent father, Manohar cultivated great skill at working in a variety of styles. But he excelled most in composing history paintings that conveyed a story with fidelity and clinical clarity. His contribution to the first edition of the Akbarnama (1596–97, the Victoria and Albert Akbarnama) demonstrates his mastery of theatrical composition and his extraordinary gift for finely executed descriptive detail. His assembled court scenes with multiple portraits of courtiers were without rival and were achieved with carefully constructed compositions in which the interplay of surface pattern provided the unifying visual element.

Unlike the works of some of his contemporaries, such as Abu’l Hasan, Manohar’s portraiture rarely exhibits a psychological dimension; it appears equally concerned with fidelity in the rendering of jewels, fabrics, and faces. The remarkable depiction of the enthroned Prince Salim, with its radical placement of an obliquely viewed throne and uncompromisingly passive profile portrait of the future emperor, is a tour de force in emotional detachment. Henceforth, Manohar was Salim-Jahangir’s painter of choice. He set new standards for the group portrait, typically for his darbar scenes in which all those of rank are assembled before the emperor. He retained this position until other luminaries such as Abu’l Hasan, Daulat, and Govardhan, for example, attracted the emperor’s favor. When Jahangir’s memoirs were written in 1618, Manohar was no longer listed among the favored artists of the day.

Nonetheless, Manohar’s lasting legacy is the celebration of imperial Mughal painting’s central concerns — the glorification of the person of the emperor and the propagation of his achievements. He was both chronicler and propagandist par excellence of the Mughal court. His imperial patrons, Akbar and Jahangir, regarded themselves as discerning connoisseurs. Under the latter, Manohar increasingly had to devote his energies to creating images for the emperor’s self-edification alone. His late group portraits reveal the degree of formulaic reproduction of figure and facial types that ultimately was his undoing as a court favorite.

Prince Offering Wine to His Beloved: Page from the Diwan of Mir Ali Shir Nawa'i, Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624), Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, India (Mughal court at Agra)

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