Mughal Painting

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A distinct painting style emerged during the Mughal period, greatly inspired by influences from Persia. New themes, colours and forms began to appear. Court scenes were depicted with great opulence, as well as historical events, hunting scenes, other royal activities, and flowers and animals. Picturesque sceneries, usually hilly landscapes, were the favoured backgrounds used by Indian artists, who tried to blend the Persian ideas with Indian motives in an ingenuous manner. The Mughal paintings were known for their subtlety and naturalism.


All Mughal rulers were great admirers of painting, with the exception of Aurangzeb. Mir Sayyid Ali and Abdus Samad were two great painters in the courts of Humayun and Akbar. Abus Samad was bestowed with the title “Shirinqalam”. Akbar can be considered as the real founder of the Mughal painting. Several noteworthy works were completed during his reign, which include the ‘Razm-Nama’ (which was Mahabharata in illustration),  ‘Babur Nama’ and ‘Akbar Nama’. The ‘Razm-Nama’ was completed in 1589 A.D. and comprised of 169 paintings. Akbar had particular admiration for the Hindu artists, notably Daswanth, Basawan, Kesu Das and Manohar.

The Mughal painting came under Western influence towards the beginning of the 17th century. New techniques, such as the use of light and shade to capture space and volume and the use of atmospheric effects to indicate spatial recession and the aerial perspective, were introduced in the Mughal painting. The Jesuit missions to the Mughal courts also strengthened the synthesis between these two diverse cultures, leading to one of the most flourishing artistic exchanges in the medieval period. 

Jahangir (1605-1627) was an ardent supporter of Mughal painting, under whose patronage the art form flourished significantly. During his reign, depicting nature, particularly plants, animals, and birds, became a prominent theme in Mughal artworks. Jahangir also championed the arts of calligraphy and introduced the practice of portrait painting. Another notable trend during his era was the growing popularity of albums containing collections of paintings.


During Shah Jahan’s reign, Mughal painting evolved to embrace a new romantic essence, with themes of love, romance, portraits, and durbar (court) scenes becoming predominant. The artists of this period vividly brought to life the romantic tales of Laila-Majnu, Shirin-Farhad, and Baz Bahadur-Roopmati, depicting dramatic scenes of elephant fights and men managing ‘mast’ (frenzied) elephants. A recurrent motif featured a young lady standing beneath a willow tree, gracefully holding a branch, epitomising the delicate romantic aesthetic of the era. Prominent painters such as Muhammad Faqirullah Khan, Muhammad Nadir, Mir Hashim, Bichitr, Anupchchatar, Chitarman, and Honhar led the artistic scene under Shah Jahan.

Aurangzeb’s apathy towards painting forced many great artists to migrate to other kingdoms in Rajasthan, Punjab and other parts of the country, leading to a decline in the Mughal painting. 


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