Two other half-length portraits of Muhammad ‘Adil Shah in the India Office Library (405) and in the British Museum (1937.4-1004), both attributed to Muhammad Khan offer close comparable examples to the present painting (Mark Zebrowksi, Deccani Painting, London, 1983, cat. 98 and 99, pp.130-131). One depicts him holding a flower and the other smoking, as in the present work. They show the full profile of the sultan’s face, wearing elaborate turban and jewellery with extremely detailed attention given to the beard and hair. The treatment of the facial features is similar on all three works, suggesting that our portrait might also be in the hand of Muhammad Khan. However the present work shows a more elaborate rendition of the sultan’s garments – a Mughal-style robe and his striped turban.
The sultan wears a splendid gold jama, woven in gold and green on a pink ground with repeating motifs of peacock feathers, each of which rises from a gold crescent. This is an illustration of the Mughal influence in fashion reaching the Deccan at that time. A portrait of Sultan ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah II in the Barber Institute, Birmingham, attributed to the Bombay painter of Bijapur, circa 1660, depicts the sultan wearing a similar fabric. The same fabric is seen again on a bolster behind ‘Ali Adil Shah II in durbar, also by the Bombay painter, in the Dr Moti Chandra Collection, Bombay (Zebrowksi, op.cit., cat.108 and 107, pp.140-141). The Bombay painter proved himself to be a close recorder of court textiles, as seen in the Chandra Collection painting (Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2015, cat.67, p.148-149). In her discussion of the artist’s style, Navina Najat Haider notes his ‘blunt features, including well-articulated, reddened lips and a prominent eye with a sweeping eye-brow, [which are] marked qualities of his portraits’.
Muhammad Adil Shah reigned between 1627 and 1656, followed on the Bijapur throne by ‘Ali Adil Shah II (r. 1656-72). It is very probable that this portrait was executed during the 1650s, where both artists were active and both Shahs ruled. This exquisite royal portrait is particularly evocative of the luxury and refinement of the Bijapur court of the mid-17th century – few paintings of this quality have survived in private hands.