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Mughal Emperor Shahjahan - A portrait

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Mughal Emperor Shahjahan - A portrait
Circa A.D. 1660-70

Place of origin: Mughal
Materials: Paper
Dimensions: Paper, 25 x 16 cm
Acc. No. 60.978

Though stylized, especially with a nimbus around his face, and caught in a formal posture appropriate to a Mughal emperor, or rather to any medieval prince, this portrait, one of the best known in Indian miniature painting tradition, represents emperor Shahjahan's real likeness as it has been recorded in his contemporary visual representations: his actual stature, facial features and type of beard, style of costume - turban, long jama, upper half coat, decorative 'pataka' and sash around the neck, his known long sword, gems-studded flower-motif in hand and his personality in its truest idiom : his grace, sophistication, formalism and taste.

The fifth among the Great Mughals Shahjahan ruled Hindustan from 1628 to 1658 when his son Aurangzeb removed him from the throne and put him under arrest till his death in early 1666. The builder of fabulous Tajmahal, Delhi's Red Fort and the township of Shahjahanabad, Chandani Chowk and adjacent localities of now days, architecture was Shahjahan's first love though his patronage to the art of painting was no less. Akbar who virtually founded the Mughal School of miniature painting showed little liking for portrait-painting. It was his son Jahangir under whose patronage the Mughal School initiated portrait painting that Shahjahan led to its ultimate height. Shahjahan not only often sat for portraits but some he even authenticated with his signatures on them. This portrait, though rendered around the time when he was in imprisonment, reveals the same maturity of form as reveal the best portraits rendered at his court atelier.

As suggest his grey-bearded face, socketed eyes and face deprived of the glow of vigorous youth the painting represents Shahjahan in his advanced years, sometime in late fifties. As some among his officially rendered portraits portray him as standing he seems to have had a preference for such posture. He appears to have had a moderately tall figure with a perfectly balanced anatomy, an angular face with sharp nose, thoughtful eyes and a bit projected forehead. His beard is almost completely white, though contrarily moustaches are jet black. He is putting on a long silk jama in deep mauve, a beautifully embroidered upper half-sleeve short coat, a typical style developed at Mughal court itself, a Shahjahani turban, a style that he himself innovated, bedecked with a serpech studded with rubies and precious stones. In one of his hands he is holding a flower, and in the other, the hilt of his sword.

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