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Study of Saint John the Evangelist, After Albrecht Dürer

Abu'l Hasan Indian

Not on view

This sensitive study was drawn by the thirteen-year-old son of Aqa Riza. The young artist certainly was working directly from the Dürer original rather than from some Mughal intermediary version. He produced a sensitive and accurate interpretation of the Dürer, with finely judged shaded modeling to give volume and form to the figure. The saint’s anguish, seen in his intense facial expression and tightly clasped hands, reveals a psychological insight that soon would make Abu’l Hasan the foremost portrait painter of Jahangir’s reign.

About the Artist

Abu'l Hasan
Born in India ca. 1588–89, active at the Mughal courts in Allahabad and Agra 1600–1628; son of Aqa Riza

As the son of the eminent Mughal court artist Aqa Raza, Abu’l Hasan was tutored early in the skills of manuscript painting, a vocation to which he displayed precocious aptitude. The sensitively drawn and psychologically insightful Saint John the Evangelist was adapted after Durer’s original by Abu’l Hasan at the age of thirteen, and his first contribution to an imperial commission appears to be the 1604–10 edition of Anvar-i Suhayli (Lights of Canopus; British Library), while he was still in his teens. A portrait of the artist from this period by Daulat shows a youthful Abu’l Hasan working intently on his drawing board, his artist’s tools arranged in front of him. Major works followed, such as squirrels in a plane tree of about 1610 (British Library), which closely follows his father’s conservative Safavid style in its uncompromising flatness and gold ground, although some modulating of forms represents a concession to Mughal trends. Abu’l Hasan’s technical brilliance resulted in nature studies of dazzling fidelity; his spotted forktail (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) is certainly on a par with great hornbill by Mansur, who was regarded as the great naturalist painter of the Mughal age.

Abu’l Hasan’s heyday was in the last decade of Jahangir’s reign (r. 1605–28). His pictures appear prominently in collected works recording the celebrations of Jahangir’s accession, painted a decade after the event but incorporating portraits of contemporary personalities of the court, many identifiable through inscriptions in earlier portrait studies. Abu’l Hasan quickly emerged as the emperor’s favored portraitist and was given the singular honor of painting the frontispiece for Jahangir’s memoirs, the Jahangirnama. It was for this work that Jahangir awarded him the title Nadir al-Zaman (Wonder of the Times), in 1618. He was engaged by Jahangir to portray the emperor in a series of allegorical portraits. With the regime change in 1627, Abu’l Hasan ceased to be active. He was closely identified with the personality and patronage of Jahangir and so did not find favor when Shah Jahan succeeded, although one imperial portrait indicates this decline was not immediate. No work is known from beyond 1628.

Study of Saint John the Evangelist, After Albrecht Dürer, Abu'l Hasan (Indian, born ca. 1588/89, active 1600–1628), Brush drawn ink on paper, India (Mughal court, probably at Allahabad)

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