Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Five: Courtly Splendor in the Islamic World/ Chapter Four: The Mughal Court and the Art of Observation/ Featured Works of Art: Images 30–32/ Image 30

Image 30

The Emperor Shah Jahan with His Son Dara Shikoh: Folio from the Shah Jahan Album (verso)
About 1620
Artist: Nanha (active 1605–27)
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; margins: gold and opaque watercolor on dyed paper; 15 5/16 x 10 5/16 in. (38.9 x 26.2 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955 (

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Mughal empire, courtly life, Emperor Shah Jahan, natural world, album, figural art, plants, birds, watercolor, ink

This painting demonstrates the Mughals' focus on portraiture as well as their love of precious objects (see fig. 30). It presents two realistic depictions of the Mughal royal family—the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his eldest son, Dara Shikoh, who are shown examining precious stones.

The painting comes from an album begun by Emperor Jahangir and continued by his son Shah Jahan. The album was created for private viewing and study by the emperor.

Two figures are seated on a golden throne furnished with luxurious cushions. Shah Jahan admires the large ruby clasped in his right hand, while his son—who is facing him—looks toward the bowl of precious stones resting in his father's left hand. The emperor is clad in a red and yellow striped turban with a plume, a white double-breasted gown called a jama, a richly embroidered sash, and a violet garment called a pajama. On his right thumb is a jeweled ring, which could be used to draw the string of a hunting bow. The handle of a jeweled dagger, signaling his supremely important position in the court, is visible just above his waist.

Prince Dara Shikoh is dressed in a yellow jama fastened with a sash. In one hand he holds a turban pin, in the other a fly whisk made from a peacock feather. Multiple strands of pearls adorn Dara Shikoh; under Mughal rule, pearls were a hallmark of nobility, and princes and princesses were almost always portrayed with them.

The patron of this painting was most likely Shah Jahan's father, Emperor Jahangir, who was interested in realistic and masterfully drawn depictions of people, animals, and plants. The wide border that frames the painting contains precisely rendered images of flowers and birds. In the upper right corner are flowers, including narcissus, roses, poppies, and crocus. The Mughal style of creating botanically accurate flowers was informed by the presence of European botanical prints in the court (fig. 33). Birds, such as chukar partridges, demoiselle cranes, pigeons, Indian peafowl, and Birds of Paradise (symbolizing royalty), are also depicted with skillful realism. All the birds are native to the Mughal territories and still exist in present-day India and Pakistan.

Fig. 33. Crocus, folio 61 of Le Jardin du Roy tres Chrestien Henry IV Roy de France et de Navare, 1608; designer: Pierre Vallet (French, about 1575–1657); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1935 (35.67.3)

This type of illustration, from a European botanical album, influenced the paintings produced at the Mughal court. Notice the crocus in the top right corner of the margin of image 30.

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