It is believed that the Indian paintings from the album now known as the St. Petersburg Muraqqa' were taken to Iran by Nadir Shah following his sack of Delhi in 1739. Whilst there, the folios were all given new borders and almost all backed by panels of calligraphy by the master calligrapher Mir Imad (see the following lot). The album was obtained in 1909 by the Russian Aulic Councillor Ostrogradsky from Jews in Tehran who had in turn purchased it from the Royal Library after which it was presented to the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg (Francesca von Habsburg et al., The St. Petersburg Muraqqa', Lugano, 1996, p.20). At that stage the manuscript contained exactly 100 leaves. In 1912 the Metropolitan Museum purchased one leaf which appears to be the earliest provenance on any of the leaves outside Russia. In 1931 six of the best folios of all were sold to the Freer Gallery.
Of the paintings known from the album, most were produced between the early 16th and the end of the 17th centuries, although there are a few works from half a century either side of this period. Most are Mughal - including a few that were intended for the Jahangirnama and the Padshahnama, although there are two early 17th century Deccani works and twenty Persian paintings, mostly of the late 17th century. Half of the paintings postdate Shah Jahan's rule (1628-58) (Elaine Wright, Muraqqa. Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Virginia, 2008, p.575).
The very distinctive pink and orange sky of our miniature is close to that of a one that depicts "A Pahlaavan's Initiation Ceremony" from the album which is attributed to around 1720 (Abolala Soudavar, Art of the Persian Courts, New York, 1992, no.131b, p.324). The basic conceit however relates more closely to one entitled "A Late Mughal Outing" from the album formerly in the collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (Von Habsburg, op.cit., pl.234, pp.125-26). That miniature depicts a group of ladies bathing on the banks of a river, whilst a smaller group of women sit beyond them - talking, playing music and smoking a nargileh. Like our miniature that one shows a similar blend of classical Mughal features and those clearly influenced by European prints. The ladies in the foreground of that miniature seem to be influenced by a Western model. Similarly the landscapes of both miniatures, with the winding rivers, the gently swaying trees and in our case distinctive buildings - some even surmounted by crosses - could be lifted straight from a European print. Indeed buildings perched on a rocky hilltop in an engraving by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) entitled The Seamonster, offered in these Rooms, 28 March 2012, lot 3, bear close resemblance to those in our miniature, and may provide a possible prototype. The small cluster of ladies who sit on the banks beyond the bathers in the Aga Khan miniature, retain a Mughal formality and with their gold-edged sheer veils and distinctive features, relate very closely to those found on ours. That miniature, which is attributed to circa 1680, is inscribed Mahmud (although in the lower left hand corner, an area that appears to have been extended).
For a calligraphic folio from the St. Petersburg Muraqqaq as well as a short discussion on the borders of both pages, please see the following lot.