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A FINE PORTRAIT OF A MUGHAL OFFICER, PROBABLY KHALILULLAH KHAN
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A FINE PORTRAIT OF A MUGHAL OFFICER, PROBABLY KHALILULLAH KHAN

MUGHAL INDIA, CIRCA 1650-60 AD

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A FINE PORTRAIT OF A MUGHAL OFFICER, PROBABLY KHALILULLAH KHAN
MUGHAL INDIA, CIRCA 1650-60 AD
Opaque and transparent pigments on paper, standing and facing left, his right hand holding a sarpech, his left hand resting on his enamelled gold sword, wearing a gold thread embroidered coat with finely painted chevrooned motifs under floral lattice, the coat trimmed with fur, his white turban, green robe and purple trousers with gold floral decoration, with light indications of a green ground and a white sky, laid down on an album page with trimmed margins between blue and pink borders with gold floral scrolls, the margins with floral sprays outlined in gold, alternatively poppies and lillies, laid down on gold-speckled blue cardboard panel, the reverse with identification inscriptions in Persian and devanagari script, some scuffing and staining to the cardboard borders, otherwise in very good condition, mounted
Painting 8 x 5 1/8in. (20.2 x 13.1cm.); page 14 7/8 x 10¼in. (37.8 x 26cm.)
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Lot Essay

The waqf inscription in loose naskh script on the reverse indicates that this page or the album it comes from was once endowed to a religious institution. The inscription could read waqf-e shaykh (?) sadr (?) ("waqf of Shaykh (?) Sadr (?)"). Other pages which may have come from the same album, now in the British Museum were part of an album that belonged to Mir Muhammad Ashraf and which he made waqf in 1661-2 AD. Mir Muhammad Ashraf served Sulayman Shikoh as military officer and paid allegiance to Aurangzeb after the battle of Samurgarh. He is known to have been an admirer of Rumi's Mathnawi as well as a good scribe (Ma'athir al-Umara, vol. I, p.303-4).

At least one of the British Museum pages has floral margins identical to the present page. It shows a portrait of Mirza Bahmanyar I'tiqad Khan, son of Asaf Khan, and is dated to circa 1645-1650 and is illustrated in J.M. Rogers, Mughal Miniatures, London, 1993, cat.77. The album was originally catalogued by Rieu, BM Pers. MSS, vol. II, p. 779, where it is folio 33 of the Album Add. Or. 18801. It was acquired by the museum in 1920 (1920,0917,0.13).

An inscription in Persian on the reverse of this page gives the name of the sitter as Shaykh Khalilullah Khan (sahib-e khalilullah khan kharideh shod, "The portrait of Khalilullah Khan was purchased"). This identification is supported by another portrait of the same figure in the British Museum, where a bold inscription in nasta'liq script in the margins identifies him as Nawab Khalilullah Khan Jad-I Amir Khan ("grandfather of Amir Khan"). Each portrait is of a standing bearded man probably in his sixties, with grey hair, his long beard almost white, his coat with a fur collar. The British Museum portrait is drawn in pencil with colour washes to highlight the face. Our portrait however is characterised by its lavish use of gold for the coat, finely painted with chevrooned motifs and floral sprays overall, and the finesse of the face and turban, the tangible quality of the fur trim and the rare appearance on a painting of a horse-headed dagger.

The attribution of the British Museum portrait to the painted Muhammad Nadir al-Samarqandi was discarded by Rieu in the early 20th century. His work shows a very different manner and is discussed in Facets of Indian art, London, 1986, p.124-131. However it is possible that the two portraits are painted by the same artist, surely a painter of very high profile, a master in his art.

Khalilullah Khan was a prominent military officer during Shah Jahan's reign. His biography can be found in the Ma'athir al-Umara', a Persian biography of notable figures of the Mughal empire between 1556 and 1780. His first important appointment was as court Chamberlain in 1632. In 1654, he led the emperor's armies to war against the king of Srinagar in the Garhwall district. In 1657, during Shah Jahan's illness, Khalilullah was made Mir Bakhshi (Head of Military Affairs) by Dara Shikoh. He took an active part during the battle of Samugarh in 1658, in which Dara Shikoh's armies faced his young brother Aurangzeb's troops. Although being credited with Dara Shikoh's trust, Khalilullah swore an oath of allegiance to the future emperor and was sent in pursuit of Dara Shikoh. He was made Governor of Punjab shortly after and died on 21 February 1662. He is known to have ordered the construction of the Shalimar gardens in Lahore.

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