Mughal painting is a North Indian painting confined to miniatures either as book illustrations or as single works to be kept in albums. It emerged from Persian miniature painting and developed in the court of the Mughal Emperors from 16th to 18th century.
The Mughal emperors were Muslims and they are credited with consolidating Islam in South Asia, and spreading Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture as well as the faith.
Mughal painting immediately took a much greater interest in realistic portraiture than was typical of Persian miniatures. Animals and plants were the main subject of many miniatures for albums, and were more realistically depicted.
Although many classic works of Persian literature continued to be illustrated, as well as Indian works, the taste of the Mughal emperors for writing memoirs or diaries, begun by Babur, provided some of the most lavishly decorated texts, such as the Padshahnama genre of official histories.
Subjects are rich in variety and include portraits, events and scenes from court life, wild life and hunting scenes, and illustrations of battles.
The Persian tradition of richly decorated borders framing the central image was continued, as was a modified form of the Persian convention of an elevated viewpoint.
The Mughal painting style later spread to other Indian courts, both Muslim and Hindu, and later Sikh, and was often used to depict Hindu subjects. This was mostly in northern India.
It developed many regional styles in these courts, tending to become bolder but less refined. These are often described as “post-Mughal”, “sub-Mughal” or “provincial Mughal”.
The mingling of foreign Persian and indigenous Indian elements was a continuation of the patronisation of other aspects of foreign culture as initiated by the earlier Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate, and the introduction of it into the subcontinent by various Central Asian Turkish dynasties.
Generally made as miniatures either as book illustrations or as single works, Mughal painting evolved from the Persian school of miniature painting with Hindu, Buddhist and Jain influences.
These paintings evolved during the rule of various Mughal Emperors in India. The paintings often revolved around themes like battles, legendary stories, hunting scenes, wildlife, royal life, mythology, etc.
These paintings also became an important medium to narrate the tall tales of the Mughal emperors. This art-form became so popular that it eventually made its way to various other Indian courts as well.
The Victoria and Albert Museums in London houses a large and impressive collection of Mughal paintings.
History & Origin
Before the rise of the Mughal Empire in India, the Delhi Sultanate ruled over most parts of the Indian subcontinent. Miniature painting was already evolving in various regions from around 10th century and it continued to flourish in various regional courts during the Delhi Sultanate.
When Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, returned from his exile, he brought along with him two eminent Persian artists – Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd al-Samad.
Based on Humayun’s instructions, these Persian artists created many famous paintings, including the ‘Khamsa of Nizami.’
These paintings deviated from the traditional style of Persian art and hence a new style of art form called ‘Mughal Painting’ was born. Mughal paintings were further developed by subsequent Mughal emperors.
Growth of the Mughal Painting Under Various Emperors
The Mughal painting soon became popular among rulers as they found the idea of portraying themselves interesting and royal in many ways. It was also a great artistic medium to display their bravery and achievements.
After the death of Humayun, his son Akbar took up and expanded his father’s library. He also showed great interest in arts, and the Mughal painting flourished under his reign.
The impetus Mughal paintings received during the reign of Akbar made the Mughal painting further more famous, and it was taken forward by Shah Jahan and Dara Sikoh.