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Prince Akbar and Noblemen Hawking, Probably Accompanied by His Guardian Bairam Khan

Attributed to 'Abd al-Samad Iranian
Assigned to Mir Sayyid Ali

Not on view

This is among the earliest known examples of Mughal painting in Delhi and is a rare work that can be associated with the reign of Humayun. It most probably was produced soon after Humayun recaptured Delhi in 1555. Although not inscribed, recent research suggests that it most probably depicts, in the foreground, the young prince Akbar hawking, accompanied by his guardian Bairam Khan. A year later, the prince’s father was dead, and the prince was emperor. This is a rare example of early Mughal painting as an independent work, not part of an integrated manuscript. It is one of the earliest known pictures belonging to the Indian chapter of ‘Abd al-Samad’s long and celebrated career, along with the famous Princes of the House of Timur (British Museum, London).

In this animated scene, the artist demonstrates his remarkable ability to render fine descriptive detail. A youthful fresh-faced Akbar and a nobleman, both wearing turban ornaments (sarpech) with heron-feather plumes (kalgi), are enjoying hawking; the prince appears to have made the first kill. The landscape is treated almost monochromatically, in the nim qalam manner of a tinted drawing, providing a perfect foil for the strongly colored figures and horses. The fantastic stylized rock formations represent a continuation of the Safavid style, but the landscape has a new harshness, an edge of Mughal realism.

About the Artist

Abd al-Samad
Iranian, born in Shiraz ca. 1505–15, trained at the court atelier of Shah Tahmasp in Tabriz, served the Mughal emperors Humayun and Akbar, active 1530s until his death ca. 1600

Abd al-Samad was a master trained in Safavid Iran. He served under Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76) at Tabriz and subsequently was recruited by the Mughal emperor-inexile Humayun. Along with two other eminent Iranian court painters, Miravvir and his son Mir Sayyid ‘Ali, ‘Abd al-Samad, served Humayun at his court-in-exile in Kabul from 1549, and returned with his conquering army to Delhi in 1555. Within a year, he was working for a new patron, the young adolescent emperor Akbar, and codirecting with Mir Sayyid ‘Ali, a rapidly expanding imperial atelier. He was appointed by the young Akbar as his personal tutor in the art of painting, a singular honor. He became enormously influential in the court atelier, we may assume tutoring many protégés; the renowned painter Daswanth is recorded among his pupils. ‘Abd al-Samad succeeded Mir Sayyid ‘Ali as the director of the most ambitious painting project ever undertaken in Mughal India, the production of 1,400 large paintings on cloth narrating the Iranian epic, the Hamzanama. Akbar’s biographer Abu’l Fazl tells us that under ‘Abd al-Samad’s direction, ten volumes comprising a thousand paintings were created over seven years, completing the project around 1571–72. To achieve this goal, ‘Abd al-Samad recruited artists from across India, thereby precipitating the fusion of styles witnessed in the Hamzanama, which proved to be the genesis of the Mughal style.

‘Abd al-Samad’s demonstrative gifts as an administrator led him away from the world of court ateliers. In 1577, Akbar appointed him director of the royal mint at Fatehpur Sikri, and other senior government posts followed, culminating in the governorship of the city of Multan. No other Mughal court artist made the transition to the centers of political power achieved by ‘Abd al-Samad. Nonetheless, it appears that he maintained a directorial role over the atelier for much of his career. In addition, his personal work retained a powerful allegiance to the Safavid aesthetic, most evident in the portrayal of two fighting camels, which he painted in his eighty-fifth year as a gift to his son and which was his personal homage to the doyen of Iranian painters, Bihzad (ca. 1450–1535/36). The masterly control evident in this and other identifiable works earned ‘Abd al-Samad the title Shirinqalam (Sweet Pen) from Akbar.

Prince Akbar and Noblemen Hawking, Probably Accompanied by His Guardian Bairam Khan, Attributed to 'Abd al-Samad (Iranian, Shiraz ca. 1505/15–ca. 1600), Opaque watercolor and ink on paper, India (Mughal court at Delhi)

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