KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Mughal empire, courtly life, Emperor Shah Jahan, natural world, album, figural art, plants, birds, watercolor, ink
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS CHAPTER
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.