Salim Chisti was a sufi saint who lived between 1478 and 1572. Akbar, aged 28 and without a male heir, famously travelled to meet him as he was seeking his benediction. Shortly after, Akbar’s son was born whom he named Salim (the future Jahangir) in honour of the saint. Salim Chisti’s mausoleum was built in the imperial city of Fatehpur Sikri in 1580.
The Wantage Album of the Victoria and Albert Museum comprises thirty-three folios. They were bought in London in 1867-68 by Baron Overstone, who presented them to his daughter, the Hon. Harriet Lindsay, later Lady Wantage, on the occasion of her 31st birthday. She bequeathed them to the V&A in 1921. Moti Chandra, in 1949, concluded that only fourteen folios were 17th century Mughal miniatures. So fine were these fourteen folios that it was suggested that they were drawn from the same large pool of folios from which the Minto and Kevorkian folios came. A study produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Kevorkian Album in 1987 and a similar undertaking at the Chester Beatty agreed that a larger number of albums had provided the folios for the later Minto, Kevorkian and Wantage assemblages (Elaine Wright, Muraqqa'. Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Virginia, 2008, p.472). The remaining nineteen folios were thought to be copies of 17th century works, probably produced in India circa 1800 (Wright, op.cit., p.85).
Three other versions of this painting are in public collections: two close copies are in the Metropolitan Museum, New York bearing an attribution to Manohardas (13.228.42) and in the Victoria and Albert Museum (290-871), both dated circa 1800. A later 19th century copy, less refined and using a reverse setting with Salim Chisti sitting on the left, is in the British Museum (1920, 0917, 0.245). They appear to be copied from a 17th century Mughal original, as many paintings in the Wantage album. Another painting from the Wantage album, depicting Jahangir enjoying the festival of Holi, painted circa 1800 was sold at Christie’s, London, 10 April 2014, lot 30.
The present work is ascribed to Govardhan. This artist was active between 1596 and about 1645. The son of Bhawani Das, he worked for Prince Salim in Allahabad before his accession to the throne and then in Agra. Ascetics and dervishes were one of Govardhan’s favourite subjects. A painting from the Late Shah Jahan Album of a dervish, musician and soldier, ascribed to Govardhan and dated circa 1625-30 shows a related scene where the three characters (here four) are seated under a tree. The musician also carries a tambur and the scene is set in a similar fashion (Amina Okada, Imperial Mughal Painters, Paris, 1992, cat.242, p.204). It is a subject he chooses again in one of his most accomplished paintings, a ‘rustic concert’ from 1620-25, part of the Minto Album (Okada, op.cit., cat.236, p.200).