From the period 1526 to 1858, the Mughals ruled over the Indian subcontinent and produced an outstanding number of manuscripts and paintings, from portraits of young princes to calligraphic hangings. A selection of these are reproduced in Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire where J. P. Losty and Malini Roy have lovingly assembled some of the best representations of Mughal art and manuscripts from the collection at the British Library and presented them as a visual statement of the prowess and artistic achievements of the once-great Mughal empire.
A comprehensive Introduction focuses on the history of key Mughal rulers to provide background to the commissioning of artworks and manuscripts. Chapter 1, ‘The Emperor Akbar’s Patronage’, describes Emperor Akbar’s expansion of the imperial studio and discusses the possible influence of European prints on local artists whose own style was a mixture of Indian, European, and Iranian elements. A beautifully illustrated painting ascribed to Dharm Das (1595–96) and entitled ‘The Man Carried Away by the Simurgh’ is a wonderful example of the eclectic style.
Chapter 2, ‘Mughal Patronage in the Seventeenth Century’, focuses on Akbar’s eldest son Salim who favoured small-scale intricate works as opposed to the large paintings and manuscripts that were created under his father (p. 80). He appears to have been fond of paintings depicting moments in his life, using the medium as a way of presenting his living memoirs.
Throughout the text, narratives are attached to each piece of artwork and so provide for an exhaustive timeline of Mughal rule in India. Chapters 3 and 4 concentrate on the eventual decline of the artistic tradition that the Mughals became world renowned for: artists started focusing on simple, singular portraits rather than being commissioned for huge, impressive pieces and, despite occasional reinvigoration of the studio and artists, it succumbed to Europeanised naturalism and lost the individualistic lustre it once held.
Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire presents a visual feast of Mughal rule as depicted in art and in manuscript and is one that is sure to delight both art and history lovers, if not for the representation of artistic skill then for the visual representation of an empire’s history.