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Gouache heightened with gold on paper, the seated Virgin Mary embroiders a green shawl, a classic pavilion behind her decorated with a vermilion canopy, a bouquet of white flowers in a vase above a lectern with a book with pseudo-Hebrew script, the clouds open to reveal God amongst angels and cherubs, a European-style city in the background, Jahangir Padshah in gold naskh inscribed along the top, the identification inscription in black naskh along the bottom edge with the name of Aqa Riza and giving the date "10", possibly a reign date, very slight scuffing, laid down betwen gold illuminated margins, the reverse a nasta'liq calligraphic quatrain signed Mir 'Ali, laid down between gold lattice illuminated borders, framed and glazed
Miniature 8 7/8 x 7¾in. (22.4 x 19.5cm.); folio 12 1/8 x 10 1/8in. (30.7 x 25.8cm.)
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Romain Pingannaud
Romain Pingannaud

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Lot Essay

This magnificent miniature is an example of the emergent trend in Mughal courts from the early days of Akbar's reign to emulate European artistic modes, which bought with it a new host of subjects, many religious. European prints by Flemish masters working ultimately under the influence of Albrecht Dürer were accessible to the painters of Akbar's studio (a Mughal miniature of the Virgin and Child, done circa 1600 after an engraving by Dürer is in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, reproduced in Amina Okada, Imperial Mughal Painters. Indian Miniatures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Paris, 1992, p. 24, no. 24). Dutch, French and Italian prints were also available, as were large scale oil paintings. One such oil painting, possibly by Rubens, is seen in a miniature by Abu'l-Hasan depicting 'Ceremonies at the accession of Jahangir' from a Jahangirnama manuscript which is in the St. Petersburg Muraqqa' (f.22recto, Francesca V. Habsburg et al., The St. Petersbury Muraqqa', Lugano, 1996, pl.177). Almost contemporaneous with our miniature, the depiction of this oil painting shows the influences to which our artist must have been exposed.

An Akbari period painting of Saint Matthew the Evangelist painted by Kesu Das and now in the Bodleian Library and another, in the San Diego Museum of Art, from an Album of Jahangir and depicting the Virgin and Child, circa 1590 (attributed by Stuart Cary Welch to Kesu Das) share similar compositions to ours. All have the principle figure in the right hand corner of the page before a architectural arcade, on a terrace dotted with vessels and animals (Ivan Stchoukine, La Peinture Indienne a l'Epoque des Grands Moghols, Paris, 1929, pl.XIXb and Milo Cleveland Beach, The Grand Mogul. Imperial Painting in India 1600-1660, Massachusetts, 1978, p.52, fig.8). That of Saint Matthew shares a horizon scattered with buildings like our miniature. What is striking in all three is the very naturalistic and faithful treatment of the fabrics.

The inscription at the bottom of this miniature, although almost
undecipherable reads at one point that it was done in the 10th
. Stylistically, this is most likely to refer to the 10th year of Jahangir's reign, 1615. It also includes the name of Aqa Riza, was an
Iranian artist who moved to the Mughal court and was favoured by
Akbar's son Prince Salim. It seems however that this is likely to be a later attribution - the present miniature bears little resemblance to
the heavily Persianate aesthetic associated with the work of Aqa Riza.
A frequent and much copied subject in Christian art, it is no wonder that prints of the Annunciation were much copied at the Mughal court. It has not been possible to locate the European original by which the present work was inspired, but stylistically it seems likely that the artist lifted elements from a prototype whilst diverging in some of the iconographic and thematic conventions of the original. Whilst the scene of the Madonna stitching is known, she is usually depicted with either the needle and thread or the book as an attribute. Unusually in this case, both are shown, perhaps suggesting that our artist copied features from more than one source. Furthermore, there is no angel Gabriel at Mary's side, as is typical of the scene. A band of angels, including a likely Gabriel, look down from the clouds above, but this unusual format shows the artist adding his own personal, and highly effective, touches.

The other side of this album page has a calligraphic panel containing Qur'an XXI (sura al-anbiya, v.87 (part). It is signed mashq al-'abd mir 'ali al-katib be-dar al-fakhira bukhara (written by the slave Mir 'Ali al-Katib, in the Distinguished Abode, Bukhara). Mir 'Ali, the famous scribe of nasta'liq (d. circa AH 951/1544-55 AD), studied in Herat. He spent most of his life working as a scribe of firmans and then at the Royal Library of the Timurid Sultan Husayn Bayqara, from whom he received the title 'Sultani'. After the capture of Herat by the Safavid ruler Shah Isma'il, Mir 'Ali worked under the patronage of Khwaja Karim al-Din Habibullah Savaji, the Minister to the Governor of Khorassan and brother of Shah Tahmasp, Sam Mirza. After the subsequent Uzbek invasion of the city, Mir 'Ali was taken to Bukhara by 'Ubaydullah Khan and made to work as a scribe at his court and as the teacher of his son 'Abd al-'Aziz Khan. His recorded work includes numerous manuscripts and calligraphic pages, including 61 in the famous Gulshan Album in the Gulistan Palace Library in Tehran, and is dated between AH 914/1508-09 AD and AH 951/1544-45 AD (Mehdi Bayani, Ahval va asar-e khosh nevisan, Vol. II, Tehran, 1326 sh., p.494).

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