This remarkable painting depicts important Sufis seated in a circle around the Prophet. They can be identified as (clockwise from the left) Khwaja Qutb al-Din, Shaykh Farid al-Din Shikar Ganj, Hazra Bu 'Ali Qalandar, Muhammad Ghawth al-A'zam, Imam Husayn, Imam Hassan, Imam 'Ali, the Prophet Muhammad, Khwaja, Sayyid Ahmad Kabir, Shah Malik Husayn, Shah Shams al-Din and Shah Shir al-Din. Emperor Akbar's famous musician Tansen is seated under a tree on the foreground and the prophet Khidr rides a fish in the stream crossing the painting.
This composition, with the rounded arch formed by the characters, emphasizes the link between the protagonists. It is certainly based on the Mughal dynastic paintings, an example of which is now in the Khalili collection (dated circa 1707-12, Linda York Leach, Paintings from India, London, 1998, p. 146-7). The depiction of Khidr wearing a green coat and riding a fish is typical of that religious character traditionally seen as the one who guides the prophets. The presence of the musician Tansen is more enigmatic. The tradition suggests however that he was taught Sufism or music by the Sufi Muhammad Ghawth who appears on this painting to the right of Hassan and Husayn.
The miniatures illustrating a late Mughal epic, although probably painted in Lahore, show a similar taste for slightly naïve depictions with characters with rounded and impassive faces (this manuscript sold in these Rooms, October 10, 2006, lot 113). The epic, datable to the second quarter of the 18th century, is particularly interesting by the eclecticism of its illustrations displaying styles of different periods and traditions. This could be a feature of the first half of the 18th century, whilst the influence of the Imperial ateliers on regional schools certainly began to wane. However, the strong probability that this painting comes from the same workshop as that of lot 258 in this sale suggests that it was realized in Deccan. The school of Kurnool near Hyderabad, particularly known for its depictions of saints, could be a possible origin for these paintings. This extremely decorative yet religious painting is a wonderful example of the flourishing of provincial schools in the first half of the 18th century.