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Woman Worshiping the Sun: Page from the Gulshan Album

Attributed to Basawan Indian

Not on view

This page once formed part of the Muraqqa-e Gulshan, Tehran, and formerly must have been part of a Mughal album belonging to Akbar and Jahangir. It represents a summation of Basawan’s engagement with European art; he has creatively interpreted borrowed imagery to meet new pictorial objectives. Here, a robed woman raises her clasped hands in veneration of the sun in a gesture performed daily by Hindus. Akbar actively promoted sun-worship as part of his new fusion religion, designating Sunday as a holy day sacred to the sun and, according to his biographer Abu’l Fazl, he had a lexicon of Sanskrit names of the sun recited daily. A drawing attributed to Basawan in the Musée Guimet, Paris, after an untraced allegorical engraving provides the likely intermediary, as is evidenced in the windswept robes, the pitcher, the placement of attendant, and the transformation of a god in clouds into a classic Basawan rock formation with a radiating sun bursting through clouds.

About the Artist

Active ca. 1556–1600, at the Mughal court; father of Manohar

Basawan joined Akbar’s atelier at Delhi as a young Hindu recruit and was involved in every major manuscript production throughout his emperor’s reign. Abu’l Fazl recorded that Basawan surpassed all in composition, drawing of features, distribution of colors, and portrait painting, and was even preferred by some to the “first master of the age, Daswanth.” The mature Akbar prized Basawan above all others for his gift of faithful representation and also for advancing the Mughal style. He was a pioneer in responding to and absorbing new pictorial devices from European art; naturalistic portraiture, atmospheric perspective, and a painterly approach to landscape are his hallmarks.

Basawan was already an accomplished painter in the early 1560s, when he participated in the Mughal reworking of the Tutinama manuscript. The Origin of Music demonstrates his talent for portraiture and his ability to render rocks and trees with a naturalism not seen before in subcontinental painting. In addition, Basawan was a key contributor to the monumental Hamzanama series, as a painter of portraits, rocks, and trees, and also as a master of composition. In the folio that portrays a night attack on the camp of Malik Iraj, Basawan’s hand is visible in the rock formations and the densely foliated trees, as a comparison with those motifs in his Khamsa of Amir Khusrow Dihlavi page clearly demonstrates. The composition of this Hamzanama folio has an underlying similarity to an ascribed work by Basawan in the Victoria and Albert’s Akbarnama that shows Akbar witnessing the armed combat of Hindu ascetics, made some twenty years later.

Basawan’s most lasting legacy is the response to European art that he brought to Mughal painting. His ability to grasp the pictorial possibilities of both atmospheric and linear perspective was unmatched. His paintings of the later 1590s are a revolutionary fusion of these European pictorial devices into a newly emerging post-Safavid Mughal style. The vain dervish from an imperial copy of the Baharistan dated 1595 displays Basawan’s gift for theatricality combined with an astonishing ability to capture naturalistic detail, as witnessed in every aspect of this masterpiece, from the figures in conversation to the goats and peacocks that inhabit the setting. Basawan routinely used his signature rocks and trees to create receding intercepting spaces in the European mode. Like all imperial painters of his time, he had access at the court to northern European engravings of Christian subjects and cameo-type portraits, and he drew freely on that imagery. Basawan typically placed his European-inspired figures in a visionary Mughal setting with fantastic rock formations of Iranian derivation.

Woman Worshiping the Sun: Page from the Gulshan Album, Attributed to Basawan (Indian, active ca. 1556–1600), Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, India (Mughal court at Lahore or Delhi)

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