MUGHAL MANUSCRIPT: "CHRONICLE
OF THE KING OF THE WORLD"
by Marlena Donohue
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA],
West Hollywood) I could encourage you to go to see some of the finest examples
of Mughal manuscript painting that have been gathered in one place. Lots
of you would probably stop right there and move on. Or, I could ask you
to dig sleepily back into your world history to recall that the Mughals
were fierce people of Central Asian origin who, beginning in the 8th Century,
spread the influence and culture of Islam as far as India. But I still hear
the restless rustle of page turning.
But if I were to tell you to check out printed books commissioned by
the emperor who built the Taj Mahal, which houses the body of his fair and
favorite wife Mumtaz-i-Mahal, and which was designed to mirror the description
of heaven given in the Koran, I suspect you might perk up. Such is the power
of a juicy--and familiar--love story.
In fact by 1500 very famous Mughal leaders like Babur and Akbar had established
powerful Islamic dynasties, ruling large parts of the Indian subcontinent
from strongholds near Delhi. These rulers mixed elements of Hindu and Islamic
culture into re- markable artistic hybrids at very cosmopolitan courts.
Shah Jahan, the grief-stricken hero in our Taj Mahal tale, was part of the
Akbar line, ruling roughly from 1630 to 1660 as one of the wealthiest and
most powerful of all the Mughal kings.
King of the World: A Mughal Manuscript from the Royal Library, Windsor
Castle includes 44 paintings and two separate illuminations from the
17th Century manuscript known as Chronicle of the King of the World, an
obvious reference to the fact that Shah Jahan saw himself as, and was seen
as, master of the four corners.
The pages on view from this book are remarkable for their sheer artistry.
By the 17th Century, Mughal rulers had gathered at their courts artisans
exposed to and facile with Hindu, European and Persian Islamic art. This
melange resulted in precisely worked page paintings with all the technical
detail of medieval book art, plus the naturalism afforded by the post-Renaissance
This art is also notable because this is the only known chronicle--made
in his day--of the 33 years of Shah Jahan's rule. There is the predictable
degree of self-promotion in these delightful works. Shah Jahan sits on one
elevated, cushioned platform after another, always seeming to dominate finely
detailed, crystalline blue skies, reminding us again and again that he is
the master of heaven and earth. But between the expected propaganda there
is also a fascinating degree of legitimate historical record.
Murar, "The siege of Daulatabad," opaque
watercolor on paper, 35.5 x 25.3 cm, ca. 1635.
Unknown artist, "Shah-Jahan hunting,
c. 1645," opaque watercolor on paper,
34.2 x 23 cm, ca. 1645.
Unknown artist, "Price Awrangzeb facing a
maddened elephant named Sudhakar," opaque
watercolor on paper, 26 x 41.4 cm, ca. 1635.
Unknown artist, "The capture of
Port Hoogly ," opaque watercolor
on paper, 35.5 x 25.3 cm, ca. 1635.