Mughal painting emerged, developed and took shape during the period of Mughal Empire (16th - 19th centuries), exclusively as a court art and its development depended to a large extent on the patron and his enthusiasm. In 1526 Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty defeated the last Lodi Sultan, Ibrahim Lodi and established the Mughal Empire in India. Babur reigned only for a few short years. His son Humayun succeeded him in 1530 A.D. but within ten years Humayun lost his throne to the Afghan Sher Shah Suri, and became a refugee monarch at the court of Shah Tahmasp of Persia who had the brilliant atelier that ever existed in Iran. Humayun then came back and re-captured his throne, brought two great masters from that atelier-Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd us-Samad. These two great masters trained in the Persian court were responsible for establishing the first atelier of painting in India.
Akbar succeeded his father, Humayun in 1556 and laid the foundations of Mughal painting, a unique confluence of Persian, Indian and European art. The studios were established at the imperial court and workshops (Karkahnas) were set as collaborative enterprises comprising paper makers, calligraphers, illuminators, gilders, illustrators and binders, all supervised by a master. Some of the finest works were done in the reign of Akbar. Jahangir continued the tradition of painting and some fine manuscripts on flora and fauna are most popular of his time. Shah Jahan, his son and successor further patronized painting and artists produced works of great richness, finish and refinement, even when dealing with gory subjects such as the beheading of rebels. During Aurangzeb's period some fine portrait studies were made in the imperial studio.
Aja-i-bal Makhluqat ("The wonders of creation"), a work of some unknown poet translated in Persian by Zakariya-i-din-Muhammad-al-Qazvini in 1283, is a book of mythical wonders conceiving grotesque forms blending different species. Here, multi-human-headed snakes are painted as conversing with each other. The artist has used a plain grey background to let these strange forms be in greater focus.
The bath is over. Draped in a thin transparent sheet with golden border, not so much a device for covering her form as for discovering it and rendering it more enticing, the young damsel is wringing her hair drop by drop. Suddenly her attention is drawn to a pair of penetrating eyes full of greed surveying her beauty from across the window above and across the lone piece of textile that she is wearing. Dismayed she looks back. The appreciation of her beauty in those eyes conquers her and with colours of amour in them she fixes her eyes into those above. In facial features, expressiveness of eyes and modeling of body's upper part the painting is superb, though the anatomy of the lower, especially feet, part is not so perfect.
Seated on a throne is a royal lady with folded legs, elucidating five women standing in a row. In the middle is a tree with leaves and heads of various creatures. On the top and bottom is the row with Persian inscription; the center occupies the painted area. The deep ink blue background is very unusual.
In Mughal paintings the horses and elephants are usually treated realistically but here the artist has not been successful in capturing the elephant in a natural form. The elephant seems to have cardboard like legs. The forelegs are lifted and two men, one carrying the ankush and the other trying to tighten the cord are in the process of subduing the elephant The painting seems to be incomplete as the background and figures are left unpainted. The line is sensitive.