• Art of the Islamic and Indian  auction at Christies

    Sale 7751

    Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds

    6 October 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 258

    A MEETING OF SUFIS

    PROBABLY DECCAN, FIRST HALF 18TH CENTURY

    Price Realised  

    A MEETING OF SUFIS
    PROBABLY DECCAN, FIRST HALF 18TH CENTURY
    Gouache heightened with gold on paper, with six pairs of men each sitting on different highly illuminated carpets arranged around a central fountain and elaborate gate, behind them a river with buildings and a holy man on the horizon, identification inscriptions in the margins
    19½ x 20¾in. (49.2 x 52.5cm.)


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    Some of the paired saints depicted are fathers and sons: Shah Shir and Shah Husayn al-Din, Shah Bawab Saheb and Shah Shams al-Din Saheb. Seated on two of the carpets of the right hand side, Banda Nawaz (d. 1230) and Nizam al-Din Uliya (d. 1325), two Sufi masters of the Chishti order, each teach their companion, probably transmitting their knowledge to the following generation. It is not possible to identify all the characters here as some of the marginal annotations are now lost. A saint wearing a green coat and seated in the landscape where the perspective lines converge has no identification inscription but could be however the prophet Khidr, particularly important in Sufism.

    These portraits can be divided in three different groups, each conforming to different styles, also identifiable on lot 269. The first group, composed of three saints whose faces are represented in full profile and whose bodies are surprisingly smaller than others, is close in style to that of the Mughal painting whose influence in the region was probably strengthened by Aurangzeb's conquest of the Deccan. The second group comprises the two white bearded saints, whose faces are quite realistically painted, showing a three-quarter profile. The work of the 'Bodleian painter', who worked circa 1610-1620 in Bijapur and painted portraits of religious men and princes is somewhat related to this second group (Mark Zebrowski, Deccani Painting, London, 1983, ill. 57-59). The third group is composed of the other saints whose facial depictions are conventional: a rounded face with large almond eyes and thick eyebrows, with a well-drawn beard or moustache. The numerous portraits of Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah painted circa 1610-20 in Bijapur or the portrait of Nazar Khan of Balkh, painted in Golconda circa 1675-1700, now in the Edwin Binney collection, who display similar facial features, are related in style to this group (Mark Zebrowski, op. cit., p. 84, ill. 64. & p. 200, ill. 167).

    As these portraits depict famous Sufi saints according to different pictorial conventions, it is possible that the painter copied earlier hagiographic portraits from different schools to which he had access. As discussed in the note for the lot 259, this painting is much likely to be from the first half of the 18th century. Although a late example, the very realistic portrait of Mu'in al-Din, an important Sufi master of the Chishti order, painted in Faizabad circa 1770 and attributed to Mihr Chand, is clearly of the type of portraits on which painters would have drawn their inspiration from (Linda York Leach, Mughal and other Indian paintings from the Chester Beatty Library, vol. II, p. 657, fig. 6.233).

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