Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan

By National Museum - New Delhi

Mughal Emperor Shahjahan (1660 AD - 1670 AD) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

The representation of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan echoes the formula evolved for portraiture during the reigns of the Mughal emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. 

Depicted against a pale green background, Shah Jahan stands with his body in three quarter view and his face in profile.

He is dressed in a gold brocade overcoat, and pyjama, relieved by the mauve jama and is richly adorned with jewels, holding a sword in one hand and a flower in the other. 

His imperial rank is emphasized by a radiating halo. 

The representation was however not made during Shah Jahan’s lifetime, or by a Mughal artist; many indications suggest that it was made in the Deccan, possibly at Golconda in the late seventeenth century.

The considerable hardness in delineating the form and the face, rendered in a jarring black line, the difference in the physiognomy of Shah Jahan as depicted in his Mughal portraits, the lack of finesse in detail and the manner of depiction of the eye which is not in profile but is rendered frontally are some features that make it glaringly obvious that the representation is not by the hand of a Mughal artist.

Moreover, Shah Jahan is depicted wearing a fur wrap and a golden coat over his mauve jama, a dress associated with the traditional apparel worn by Golconda rulers, in emulation of the Central Asian fashions of the Turkman founders of the Golconda dynasty.

The painting however, imitates the pose that many Mughal portraits of Shah Jahan depict him in - holding a flower attesting to the emperor’s refined taste as an aesthete.

In the late 17th century, around the time of the Mughal conquest of the Deccan, there was a sudden proliferation of portrait paintings, emulating the Mughal style of portraiture. Many of these paintings were imitations of earlier known portraits of Mughal and Deccan rulers, and were compiled into albums.

Golconda, due to its rich resources in diamonds, indigo, saltpetre, and as a centre of textile trade,  during the seventeenth century had emerged as an entrepôt for trade with the European East India companies - particularly the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company. 

It is during this period that portraits of Mughal and Deccan rulers found a demand in an emerging clientele of European officers, merchants, adventurers who had their interests based in trade with India.

The trade and market of such portraits was quite successful, and many such portraits of Indian rulers are now housed across a variety of European museums and libraries.

This portrait of Shah Jahan may also have been made in one of the Deccani workshops in the seventeenth century catering to the growing trade.

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