Nilgai (blue bull): Leaf from the Shah Jahan Album, Mughal, period of Jahangir (1605–27), ca. 1620
By Mansur (active ca. 1589–1626)
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; H. 7 1/8 in. (18.2 cm), W. 9 1/2 in. (24.2 cm)
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955 (188.8.131.52)
Mansur, the "wonder of the age," began his career in Akbar's atelier but perfected his extraordinary natural-history painting during Jahangir's reign. He became the emperor's constant traveling companion in order to record visually the natural phenomena that fascinated his master. As Jahangir wrote in his diary, his great-grandfather Babur had only described what he saw, while he himself also ordered drawings to be made of the things he wrote about, so that "the amazement that arose from hearing of them might be increased."
This subtly colored study of a bull antelope, or nilgai, is a taxonomically correct portrait of a particular animal (note the broken horn). It also conveys the texture of the creature's fur bone, horn, and flesh, as well as its gentle spirit, which radiates from the glassy eye and contented expression. Although the background is barely indicated, the contour of the nilgai is so beautifully modulated that the animal's form interacts seamlessly with the space surrounding it.