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A WATERCOLOUR OF AN IMPERIAL DECREE (FIRMAN)
A WATERCOLOUR OF AN IMPERIAL DECREE (FIRMAN)

EUROPE OR INDIA, LATE 19TH CENTURY

Details
A WATERCOLOUR OF AN IMPERIAL DECREE (FIRMAN)
EUROPE OR INDIA, LATE 19TH CENTURY
Transparent pigments on paper, the folded and sealed decree inscribed farman-e vala shan benam-e sepahdar khan bahadur dar esteqase-ye muhammad qasim qazi jamju, ‘Firman of Sepahdur Khan in relation to Muhammad Qasim Qazi Jamju’.
in nasta'liq, mounted, framed and glazed
The watercolour 6 x 12 ½in. (15.2 x 31.8cm.)
Post Lot Text
Oliver Hoare writes of this painting: This curiosity belonged to Captain James Hoare who served in India in the second half of the 18th century. It shows a firman, an official document issued by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1658–1707, the sixth Mughal emperor), still folded and sealed with stamped wax, and inscribed in black ink: ‘The firman of the one of exalted rank, in the name of Sepahdar Khan about Muhammad Asim, the judge of Jajmu imploring assistance’.

On the reverse a now faint and partly undecipherable inscription in pencil recounts its story. The emperor issued the firman to confirm a cadi (judge) in his functions, which were to be transferred to his descendants. By the end of the century the family was ‘in a state of beggary from large possessions’, and for some reason a member of the family gave this painting to James Hoare in 1792. It is like a surrealist conundrum. The firman is shown unopened. Why was a picture of it given and not the original, and why should this be so interesting? Was it in exchange for some favour granted? Was James Hoare sufficiently tickled by this last vestige of the family’s prestige to have its portrait painted? Not knowing the answers is part of its charm.

James Hoare was an early member of the Asiatic Society established in Bengal by Sir William Jones, to which he contributed a book of drawings of Firoz Shah’s Lat in Delhi and the Lat in Allahabad. They were a major contribution to deciphering Ashoka’s inscriptions, and arriving at an understanding of the Buddhist past of India. He died of a fever while still in India.

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Cosima Stewart
Cosima Stewart

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