The subject of a teacher - possibly Sufi master - and student, which Robert Skelton writes "emphasizes the dignity of intellectual or spiritual achievement", is one that followed various Persian precedents. It became more personalized and popular in Mughal painting, particularly under the reign of the Emperor Akbar in the second half of the 16th century (B.W. Robinson et.al., Islamic Art in the Keir Collection, London, 1988, p.37). The subject is occasionally identified as the young Akbar, although Abu'l Fazl deliberately notes that Akbar spent little time with books. In any case, its popularity may either stem from the emulation of a royal model, or - as Leach suggests - be a reflection of the conservatism of noble families who, in spite of Akbar's emphasis on secular education, wanted to memorialize the familiar religious relationship between teacher and pupil (Linda York Leach, Indian Miniature Paintings and Drawings, The Cleveland Museum of Art Catalogue of Oriental Art, Part I, Cleveland, 1986, p.108). She indicates that the fact that known teacher and pupil paintings are generally small works, seldom encountered in imperial albums, reinforces the idea of noble patronage - families keen to commemorate the schooling of their sons. The subject is always depicted with the teacher appearing larger, according to the principle of hierarchical scaling, and with scholarly accoutrements between the figures, including a book and bookstand as in this miniature or also, as in the miniature in the following lot, a qalamdan and inkwell.
The European influence to which the artist of this miniature was exposed to is clear. The architectural elements, treatment of the textiles, and face of the teacher figure all reflect this. In the flatness of the profile, this teacher here bears some resemblance to St. Matthew the Evangelist depicted in a miniature of him by Keshav Das (active between 1570-1604) (Milo C. Beach, Eberhard Fischer and B.N. Goswamy, Masters of Indian Painting, Vol. I, exhibition catalogue, Zurich and New York, 2011, fig.2, p.162).