The inscription at the top of this miniature translates, 'The auspicious likeness of Nur al-Din Muhammad Jahangir Padshah Ghazi who marshalled his forces on the battlefield of victory on New Year's Day in the eighteenth [?] year of the auspicious accession corresponding to the year one thousand and thirty two of the flight [of the Prophet]'
This painting is a version of one of the most accomplished "allegorical portraits" of the Emperor Jahangir, painted by the favoured court artist, Abu'l Hasan Nadir al-Zaman (Stuart Cary Welch, Annemarie Schimmel, Marie L. Swietochowski and Wheeler M. Thackston, The Emperor's Album. Images of Mughal India, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1987, no.13, pp.104-07). A fierce negation of one of Jahangir's bitterest disappointments, it depicts the event - news of which reached Jahangir at the beginning of the 18th Noruz AH 1032/1623 AD - in which Prince Khurram (later known as Shah Jahan) rebelled against his father, trying - and failing - to capture Agra. In his retreat towards Delhi, the prince and his troops were defeated by the Imperial army under the direction of Mahabat Khan. Formerly the Emperor's favourite son, Khurram was forced to retreat and was thereafter known by his father as be-daulat or 'wretch'.
The portrait is filled with symbolism. The background of the miniature depicts the victory of the Imperial army, and Jahangir's triumph. The Emperor Jahangir, a determined if somewhat sorrowful expression on his face, is heavily armed and wears a helmet rather than a turban - a nod to his warlike mentality. In his hand he holds the orb of sovereignty topped by the royal seal and crown - appropriate for his name which literally means 'world seizer' (Amina Okada, Indian Miniatures of the Mughal Court, New York, 1992, no.55, pp.56-57). In the portrait Abu'l Hasan captures an important moment - both psychological and political.
Mughal allegorical portraits were conceived as divine manifestations of the Emperor - showing him as all-powerful and steeped in grandeur. Okada suggests that it was Jahangir's increasing disillusion and insecurity on a personal and political level in the second half of his reign that led him to take refuge in an imaginary world, and led his court painters, Abu'l Hasan and Bichitr, to work on a series of flattering and indulgent miniatures that glorified the Emperor's sovereignty. They show him receiving divine inspiration, prevailing over enemies or accomplishing heroic exploits (Okada, op.cit., p.50). As well as the portrait offered here, and its model, other portraits which flatter Jahangir in this way are known. There are, for example, two portraits from the St. Petersburg Muraqqa, both now in the Freer Gallery, one of which depicts him welcoming Shah 'Abbas and the other of which depicts 'his dream' in which he embraces the Shah - an enormous halo ringing the two monarchs' heads (Francesca von Habsburg et al., The St. Petersburg Muraqqa', Lugano, 1996, pls. 201 and 204, p.140). Another such portrait, in the Chester Beatty Library depicts Jahangir killing Malik 'Ambar (Linda York Leach, Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library, Vol. I, Dublin, 1995, no.3.25, pp.398-99).
The Abu'l Hasan portrait, which is also now in the Freer Gallery, was sold at Sotheby's, London, 12 December 1929, lot 110. Although that painting did not have any inscription connecting it with the events of 1632, the top had an inscription which read ya rabb ba'd-i jahangir in jahan , manad az dahr-i shah jahangir yadgar, 'Oh Lord, may this world remain a memorial to the epoch of Shah Jahangir'. Basil Gray, in 1948, implied that the painting was made for Shah Jahan. Beach has called the Freer painting a copy after Abu'l Hasan, dating it late in Shah Jahan's reign (Milo Cleveland Beach, The Imperial Image, exhibition catalogue, Washington D.C., 1981-82, no.18b, pp.184-85). Both of these theses however imply that Shah Jahan did not have a problem with a commissioning a portrait celebrating the defeat of his youthful rebellion, an implication which seems odd. It seems more likely that it was commissioned by Jahangir to commemorate a victory of which he was proud.
It is likely that our portrait is a 17th century copy of the Abu'l Hasan original. A charba, or pattern, for the portrait is in the Freer Gallery (Milo Cleveland Beach, The Imperial Image, exhibition catalogue, Washington D.C., 1981, p.185). Beach writes that by means of such patterns, compositions were preserved and handed down within painters' families (Beach, op.cit., p.185). The finesse of the detail and the faithfulness with which it copies the original suggests that this painting is likely to be a copy made from the original pattern, either at the same time as the original but at a lower level of patronage or in the later 17th century.