A Mughal miniature painting depicting a hunting scene; verso with nasta'liq calligraphic exercise Northern India, Akbar period, late 16th Centuryframed as one
Lot 324
A fine Mughal Miniature depicting the meeting of an Abyssinian General and a Mughal Noble in the Deccan, signed by the artist Zayn al-Abidin and dated AH 1033/ AD 1623-24; verso with a siyah mashq calligraphic exercise attributed to Mir 'Imad al-Hasani al-Qazvini, dated AH 1020/ AD 1611-12
Sold for £139,250 (US$ 227,334) inc. premium

Lot Details
A Mughal miniature painting depicting a hunting scene; verso with nasta'liq calligraphic exercise Northern India, Akbar period, late 16th Centuryframed as one A Mughal miniature painting depicting a hunting scene; verso with nasta'liq calligraphic exercise Northern India, Akbar period, late 16th Centuryframed as one A Mughal miniature painting depicting a hunting scene; verso with nasta'liq calligraphic exercise Northern India, Akbar period, late 16th Centuryframed as one
A fine Mughal Miniature depicting the meeting of an Abyssinian General and a Mughal Noble in the Deccan, signed by the artist Zayn al-Abidin and dated AH 1033/ AD 1623-24; verso with a siyah mashq calligraphic exercise attributed to Mir 'Imad al-Hasani al-Qazvini, dated AH 1020/ AD 1611-12
depicting Mughal noble embracing an Abyssinian general, both on horseback, the dignitaries surrounded by an entourage of officers and warriors riding horses and mahouts astride elephants, spires and towers of palace buildings seen beyond, a rocky landscape in the background, gouache on paper, signed in nasta'liq script by the artist and dated on painted surface on a group of rocks towards bottom left-hand corner, slight retouching, mounted on a 17th Century album page with gilt-sprinkled borders and gilt margin rules, later erroneous nasta'liq inscription on outer border; verso a siyah mashq calligraphic exercise on a Deccani marbled paper ground, an 18th Century Mughal royal library stamp of A'zam al-Dawla Bahadur in bottom left hand corner, nasta'liq inscription on outer border, pencilled marks including the price "3000f" and dealer's code
miniature 297 x 195 mm.; calligraphic exercise 358 x 200 mm.; album page 480 x 328 mm.

Footnotes

  • Property of a Gentleman

    Provenance: Gifted by Colonel Frederick Dudley Samuel, DSO, CBE, TD (1877-1951) to his niece Bridget Sarah Bishop on the occasion of her marriage in 1948; thence, by direct descent to the present owner.

    Frederick Samuel and his wife Dorothy, daughter of Meyer Salaman, were avid collectors of a wide range of art and antiques. They were benefactors of the National Art Collections Fund and donors in the mid 1930's of Islamic glass and European ceramics to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Their interests in philanthropy and the arts were shared in their wider family circle, notably by Viscountess Bearsted, the wife of Colonel Samuel's first cousin, the 2nd Lord Bearsted, whose internationally important collection of fine and applied arts is preserved by the National Trust at Upton House, Warwickshire. 'Loxboro', or Loxborough House, near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire provided Colonel and Mrs Samuel with a suitable setting for their collections. Surrounded by pleasure grounds and parkland, it was originally built as a hunting box for members of the Dashwood family of West Wycombe Park, and Hellfire Club fame. Dorothy Samuel is widely remembered as living there in some style until her death in 1970.

    Colonel Samuel was a nephew of Sir Marcus Samuel, Bt., 1st Viscount Bearsted (1853-1927), the founder of Shell Transport (now Royal Dutch Shell) and the chairman of the merchant bank M. Samuel & Co. (now Hill Samuel, a unit of Lloyds TSB's offshore private banking arm). The Colonel had a distinguished military career, seeing active service in the South African War during 1901-02, and later commanding a battalion of the Royal Fusiliers in France and Flanders during the First World War, being wounded several times and twice decorated. In the 1920s and 30s his work for his family's bank provided ample opportunities for international travel and thus easy access to the foremost art and antiques dealers of the day, not least of whom was the Paris-based Dikran Khan Kelekian, from whom this painting seems to have been purchased.

    The Scene

    The black nasta'liq inscription on the outer border, which says the painting depicts "the meeting of the Prince of Princes Shajista Khan with Amber the Abyssinian, the governor of Deccan", wrongly claims that the miniature depicts the meeting of Shajista Khan and Malik Ambar, the Abyssinian Governor of the Deccan. The figure in white on horseback bears little resemblance to Malik Ambar, who was rather taller and more striking and by this time would have been a more elderly figure. A possible and more likely episode is that of a meeting in 1615 between Shahnawaz Khan, the son of 'Abd al-Rahim and one of Jahangir's most senior officers, and an Abyssinian general before a battle near Kharki, which later became the Deccani city Aurangabad. Although the Jahangirnama records no details of the meeting, it does describe the subsequent battle at Kharki (ff. 120b-121a).

    Only the Indian Ocean divides India and the Horn of Africa, and much of the African population in the subcontinent first arrived as slaves as early as the 8th Century, but then centuries later many Africans became active traders and noted soldiers in India. The capture of the Indian fortified island Janipura in 1489 by an Abyssinian warrior disguised as a trader, who landed with his soldiers hidden in boxes, shows how well Africans were established as merchants in fifteenth-century India. They also went on to become prominent and effective soldiers, and Malik Ambar (c. 1552-1626), one of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir's greatest rivals and regent of the Deccani city Ahmadnagar, would certainly have employed Abyssinian soldiers against the Mughals in battles in the Deccan. He was so fierce an opponent of Jahangir's that the emperor is sometimes portrayed symbolically shooting arrows at his decapitated head, for example in Abu'l Hasan's miniature in the Chester Beatty Library.

    The Mughals were passionate historians of the reigns of their ancestors, with every battle and encounter well illustrated in Mughal manuscripts such as the Baburnama, Akbarnama and Jahangirnama (Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri). Jahangir was the fourth ruler of the Mughal Empire (r. 1605-1627) and his memoirs bear a resemblance to those of his great-grandfather Babur. However, the event depicted in the present miniature is not described in the Jahangirnama and it may have illustrated an historical text that has since been lost. For further discussion, see:
    Alderman, R, 'Paintings of Africans in the Deccan' in African Elites in Robbins, K X and J Mcleod (eds.),India, Ahmedabad, 2006, pp. 107-123;
    Falk, Toby, Persian and Mughal Art, P & D Colnaghi Exhibition Catalogue, London, 1976, no. 117;
    Beach, M C, The Grand Mogul, Imperial Painting in India, 1600-1660, Williamstown, Massachussetts, 1978, no. 44;
    Das, A K, Mughal Painting during Jahangir's Time, Calcutta, 1978, pp. 7, 220, 221, pl. 65;
    Thackston, W M (Transl. and Ed.), The Jahangirnama, Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India, Washington, 1999;
    Arnold, C B and J.V.S. Wilkinson, The Library of A. Chester Beatty: catalogue of the Indian miniatures, London, 1936;
    Wright, Elaine, Muraqqa', Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Alexandria, Virginia, 2008.

    The Artist

    Zayn al-'Abidin was clearly a valued Mughal artist. His earliest known paintings are found in the Freer Ramayana (1587-98), known to have been executed for the connoisseur 'Abd al-Rahim. Two miniatures in that manuscript are specifically ascribed to him: f. 236a, which shows Hanuman lifting a mountain; and f. 238a, where Ravana is shown with his army outside a city wall. The Ramayana was first translated from Sanskrit into Persian in the late 1580s, with the Jaipur Ramayana completed by Akbar's Mughal atelier in 1588, and a further royal commission of the same text completed in 1594. 'Abd al-Rahim would have been impressed by these illustrated manuscripts of the Ramayana done for his master Akbar and must then have called upon the Mughal artists for his own copy. The Islamisches Museum, Berlin, holds a miniature of a mahout astride an elephant, inv. no. I.4598 fol.2, with the signature of Zayn al-Abidin and dated AH 1018 / AD 1609-1610. This signature is also found on rocks in the landscape as in the present miniature. With a date of AH 1033 / AD 1623-24, the present lot must be regarded as Zayn al-Abidin's last known work.

    Zayn al-Abidin may well have been influenced by a similar composition by Mushfiq of an army on the march, painted for a copy of the Razmnama dated AD 1616-17: this miniature is now in the Lewis Collection in the Free Library of Philadelphia. For comparison see:
    Beach, M C, The Imperial Image, Paintings for the Mughal Court, Washington, 1981, col. pl. 66, pp. 150-151, pl. 150;
    Seyller, John, Workshop and Patron in Mughal India, The Freer Ramayana and other illustrated manuscripts of 'Abd al-Rahim, Zurich, 1999, pp. 85, 154, 202, 205, 252-3; and fig. 163;
    Losty, J P, and M Roy, Mughal India, Art, Culture and Empire, London, 2012.

    The Patron

    'Abd al-Rahim was one of the Mughal Emperor Akbar's most trusted and important advisers, a role he continued to play under Akbar's successor Jahangir, to whom he had also been a tutor. He was a bibliophile, linguist and art connoisseur whose translation of the Baburnama from Turki into Persian was presented to Akbar on 24 November 1589, and he is known to have employed ninety people in his library. He was amongst the most important patrons of art during the great age of Mughal painting, and through his wealth and generosity he came into close contact with the artists of the Mughal court and established his own studio of artists and calligraphers. Zayn al-Abidin, Mohan and Hashim are three of the artists known to have been employed by him. He also gave a delighted Jahangir a copy of Yusuf-wa Zulaika written by the celebrated calligrapher Mir 'Ali.

    The present miniature is likely to have been commissioned by 'Abd al-Rahim not only because he was at this time the most prominent patron of Mughal artists beside Jahangir himself, but also because he is known to have employed Zayn al-Abidin to illustrate his own copy of the Ramayana. Furthermore, the subject of the painting is likely to show his own son Shahnawaz Khan before the battle at Kharki in AD 1615.

    'Abd al-Rahim was born in Lahore in December 1556, the son of Akbar's most senior minister Muhammad Bayram Khan. Akbar bestowed on the minister the title Khankhanan or commander-in-chief of the Mughal armies and the Emperor's regent. In January 1561 Muhammad Bayram Khan was murdered in Gujarat and the young 'Abd al-Rahim was adopted by Akbar out of loyalty to his trusted adviser. It was a strong relationship, which was to last until the end of the Akbar's reign and on into the reign of his son Jahangir. 'Abd al-Rahim died in 1626, still holding the title of Khankhanan, after an illustrious career both as courtier and military campaigner.

    A portrait of 'Abd al-Rahim aged 72 by the Mughal artist Hashim is in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington. For a full study of his life and influence, see:
    Seyller, J, op. cit.; and
    Welch, S C, Schimmel, A Swietochowski, M L and W.M. Thackston, The Emperors' Album, Images of Mughal India, 1987, no.20.

    The Album Page

    The miniature is mounted on a late 17th Century Mughal album page with gilt-sprinkled borders and gold margin rules. It bears the library seal of A'zam al-Dawla Bahadur. Another seal of A'zam al-Dawla Bahadur with the same date appears on a painting of the Annunciation sold by Christie's in 2009 (Christie's, Indian and South East Asian Art, New York, 16th September, 2009, lot 883. For comparison see also:
    Holmes, R R, Specimens of royal, fine and historical bookbinding selected from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, London, 1893;
    Waley,M I, Islamic Manuscripts in the British Royal Collection, London, 1991, RCIN 1005068.

    For comparison, see two Jahangirnama illlustrations mounted in a mid-18th Century royal Mughal album, from a celebrated private Indian collection formed between 1920-1940, were sold at Sotheby's, Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures, 26th March 1973, lots 6 and 23.

    The Calligraphic Exercise

    The album page on which the calligraphy and the painting are mounted bear inscriptions in the same hand. On the calligraphic side, the nasta'liq inscription on the mount reads: "Without doubt, this is the mashq (practice sheet) of the qibla (scribe) Mir 'Imad Qazvini". The text comprises verses from the Munajat of Khwaja 'Abdullah Ansari and the date dhi'l -hajja AH 1020 (Feb-March AD 1612).

    The Script

    Siyah mashq, which literary means "black practice", is a style of calligraphy that started as a exercise by the scribe who would completely cover a sheet with a number of diagonal words and letters used in combinations facing upwards and downwards. The words were "broken" and along with letters were extended (mashq) and elongated (madd) to fill the sheet, thus creating an attractive calligraphic piece, and when calligraphers realised how stunning some of these calligraphic pieces were it was turned into a style of its own. According to Nabil Safwat, "In Iran, such practice sheets, were almost invariably written in nasta'liq or shikasteh, and the text became an abstract composition, with so much repetition of letters and strokes that the literal content is entirely subsumed in the technique" (N. Safwat, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, The Art of the Pen, Oxford, 1996, pp. 32-33). In time these sheets became collectable items and, thus, were signed and dated as appears in this album page. Although some sheets survive from circa 1600, the practice became popular in the second half of the 19th Century during the artistic revival spear-headed by Nasir-ad-Din Shah Qajar (r.1848-1896).

    The Calligrapher

    A number of siyah mashq sheets executed at the turn of the 17th Century are signed by the great master of nasta'liq calligraphy Mir 'Imad al-Hasani al-Qazvini (died AH 1024/ AD 1615). Born in Qazvin, he spent some time in Tabriz before travelling in the Ottoman Empire and visiting the Hijaz, Damascus, Aleppo and upon his return settled in Isfahan, where he worked at the court of Shah 'Abbas I. Numerous examples of his hand are recorded and date between AH 972/ AD 1565 and AH 1024/ AD 1615 (see Mehdi Bayani, ahval va asrar-e kosh-nevisan, vol.II, Teheran, 1346 sh, pp.518-38); and M.A. Karim-zadeh Tabrizi, The Life of Mir 'Imad al-Hasani, London, 2001.

    The Author

    Khawaja Abdullah Ansari (AD 1006-1089), also known as Pir-i Herat, the sage of Herat, was a famous Sufi who was born in Herat, Khorasan. He was known for his oratory and poetic talents in both Persian and Arabic. Ansari wrote several works on Islamic mysticism and philosophy including his most famous work, the Munajat, litanies and dialogues with God, which is considered a masterpiece of Persian literature. According to Annemarie Schimmel, " the Munajat, Orisons, was a prayer book in rhyming Persian prose, interspersed with some verses, in which he pours his love, his longing, and his advice. Its simple and melodious Persian prose makes this small book a true vade mecum for anyone who needs a devotional aid for meditation in lonely hours" (A. Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, University of North Carolina, 1975, pp. 90-91).

    Another Mughal album page with verses from Abdullah Ansari's Munajat is in the Late Shah Jahan Album, see Elaine Wright, Muraqqa' – Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, pp. 406- 408, no. 69, which is evidence that the text was known in the Mughal court and that the patron was interested in Sufism.
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