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Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II Riding His Prized Elephant, Atash Khan

Attributed to Farrukh Beg

Not on view

This painting is an homage to the Sultan’s prized elephant, whose praises he sings in his highly personal literary song-verse composition, the Kitab-i nauras. The imagery of these songs appears to inform many of the paintings commissioned by this acutely sensitive ruler. Here, the emperor had himself portrayed as the mahout, directing his beloved majestic elephant with a golden goad. Atash Khan is richly caparisoned, and his tusks are fitted with golden bands set with jewels. The attendant below is curiously dressed in European attire of the sixteenth century, presumably a whimsical detail borrowed from an imported engraving or miniature. Landscape forms defy the rules of nature, as do the chromatics of this picture.

About the Artist

Farrukh Beg
Born in Iran ca. 1545, active 1580s–1615, at the Mughal courts in Kabul, Lahore, Agra, and the Sultanate of Bijapur, died in Agra ca. 1619

Few Mughal painters have such a catalogue of praise from their patrons. Farrukh Beg was first noted as Farrukh Husayn in the early 1580s in the service of the Safavid Shah Khodabanda, in
Kabul, working for Akbar’s brother. In 1585, while serving Akbar at Lahore, he was singled out for praise as Farrukh Beg (beg is an honorific title, perhaps conferred by Akbar) in Abu’l Fazl’s official biography of Akbar, Akbarnama, alongside the unsurpassed Daswant. By 1590, he was attached to Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II’s atelier in Bijapur, where his astonishing skill was praised by the court poet. In 1609, he appeared in Jahangir’s memoirs as “one of the peerless of his age.” It seems that the apparent freedom he enjoyed was commensurate with his talent.

Farrukh Beg contributed to Akbar’s major commissions of the day, the Baburnama (1589) and the first illustrated edition of the Akbarnama (probably 1589–90). His painting Akbar’s Entry into Surat is one of the greatest works of that remarkable manuscript, subtly blending Timurid and Mughal conventions into a new vision of startling sophistication, but not in keeping with the earthy realism that appears to have been the official agenda, to mirror the aspirations that Akbar’s biography would eulogize the emperor as a history maker. A favored subject was youthful and graceful men in a flowering landscape, a well-established theme in Persian painting and one to which Farrukh Beg returned in his last years. While some of these works are clearly portraits, others seem to have a more poetic intent. His Bijapur sojourn produced a series of pictures unprecedented in Mughal India. In Ibrahim Adil Shah II hawking, he self-consciously reintroduced the mannerisms of Persian landscape painting and fused them with the newly emerging European-inspired approach to pictorial space. It is above all a landscape of the mind, extraordinary, highly individualistic, and unprecedented.

Farrukh Beg’s masterful vision of a melancholy Sufi brings together much that distinguished his life’s achievement. The work marks his only known use of European models, here transformed by the radical chromatic experiments of his Bijapur works into a mannerist painting distinguished by surreal coloring and modeling of form. That it was created in his seventieth year, the same year as a self-portrait very close in mood, makes it all the more compelling. Farrukh Beg ignored even nominal elements of perspective and instead treated surface decor as paramount in his highly individualistic, singular style.

Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II Riding His Prized Elephant, Atash Khan, Attributed to Farrukh Beg, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, India (Bijapur, Deccan)

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