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Self-Portrait of Farrukh Beg: Page from a Muraqqa of Shah Jahan

Farrukh Beg

Not on view

This portrait of an elderly man, identified by inscription as the work of Farrukh Beg, is a presumed self-portrait, although the inscription allows scope for ambiguity. It is a measure of the status and esteem in which Farrukh Beg was held at court; rarely would an artist presume to undertake such a personal work. The artist is depicted as an old man standing amid a flowering landscape and leaning contemplatively upon a long staff. The flowering bush and skyline with horizontal clouds embody elements from his Deccan years. As in those works, the landscape is not of this world but rather an imagined place. This page bears a colophon by the emperor Shah Jahan indicating it once formed part of a muraqqa (album) in the imperial library. The album was presumably inherited from his father, Jahangir, under whose patronage Farrukh Beg worked in his last years.

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.

Self-Portrait of Farrukh Beg: Page from a Muraqqa of Shah Jahan, Farrukh Beg, Opaque watercolor and ink on paper, India (Mughal court at Agra)

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