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A late Mughal album of calligraphy and paintings. c. 1720 - c. 1740

Album of specimens of calligraphy and paintings set into dyed paper margins decorated in ink and opaque water including metallic pigments and gold leaf; painted and lacquered bindings | 42.1 x 28.1 cm (book measurement (inventory)) | RCIN 1005068

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  • A Mughal album of paintings and calligraphy compiled during the reign of Muhammad Shah (1719–48) and which contains an imperial portrait of the emperor.

    The Persian name for an album of paintings and calligraphy is muraqqa. Derived from the Arabic word for ‘patched’ or ‘patchwork’, the term reflects the collage-like quality of an album in which each page is made up of several sheets of paper, cut up and arranged within decorative borders. The assembling of a muraqqa was an exercise of connoisseurship. The finest examples combined the works of past and contemporary master calligraphers and painters, with each opening inspiring literary, philosophical and art historical dialogue.

    Surviving Persian and Mughal album prologues suggest they were presented as gifts to commemorate weddings and other important occasions. The majority of paintings in this album depict women, themes from popular literature and both Hindu and Muslim holy figures. It is possible that its intended recipient was a lady of the court. Visual references to courtesans, including a courtesan enthroned (folio 3r: RCIN 1005068.e), suggest the album may have been a wedding gift to Muhammad Shah’s third wife, Udham Bai, a Hindu woman who began her life at court as a courtesan before she married the emperor and gave birth to his successor. Udham Bai became extremely influential at court and acted as regent for her son after her husband’s death, when she was known by the name of Qudsia Begum.

    The album’s folios comprise multiple layers of thick paper to give them stiffness and rigidity. The borders are all dyed bold colours and decorated with stencilled gold illumination in trellis and floral patterns.

    The calligraphy specimens, mostly verses of Persian poetry, are ascribed to two seventeenth-century calligraphers who worked at the Mughal court: Abd al-Rashid Daylami and Sayyid Ali Khan, as well as the earlier Iranian masters Mir Imad, Mir Ali and Sultan Ali.

    In addition to contemporary paintings by the artists of Muhammad Shah’s atelier, the album includes earlier seventeenth-century works and later reinterpretations of them reflecting a revivalist trend in Mughal painting of the early 18th century. Two artists who worked on the album are named: Muhammad Panah and Hunhar (Puran Nath), both active at the Mughal court in the early 18th century.

    The original painted and lacquered covers (RCIN 1005068.a) survive, a rare occurrence with Mughal albums. They are made of leather, onto which the decoration has been painted, with the outlines highlighted in gold, then covered with a lacquer varnish.

    The seal of Asaf al-Dawlah, Nawab of Awadh (dates) dated 1776-7 appears on every folio. He inherited an impressive library from his father, Shuja al-Dawlah, but added to it with his own purchases including a number of imperial Mughal albums and manuscripts pillaged from Delhi in 1788 by the Afghan Ghulam Qadir.

    Following Asaf al-Dawlah’s death in 1797, his son Ali ruled for only four months before he was deposed at the intervention of Sir John Shore (later Lord Teignmouth, Governor-General 1793–8). It was at the time of Saadat Ali Khan’s installation in Lucknow in early 1798 that the Governor-General, a well-known bibliophile, was presented with the Mughal Padshahnama manuscript (RCIN 1005025). He declined the manuscript but suggested that as a literary curiosity it might be a suitable gift to George III. The book, with five others selected by Saadat Ali Khan as elegant specimens of Persian writing, were sent to Calcutta, after Lord Teignmouth’s departure from Lucknow and forwarded by his attorneys to Europe. George III accepted the volumes and they were brought to his library at the Queen’s House, now Buckingham Palace, where they were made available to scholars and visitors.

    In a memo from Lord Teignmouth to the king dated June 1799, he described this volume as “A Collection of Paintings, with specimens of very fine writing on the back of each. The writing has no reference to the subject of the painting.”
    Provenance

    By the 1780s the album was in the possession of Asaf al-Dawlah (1748–1797), Nawab of Awadh. His successor gave it to Lord Teignmouth, Governor-General of India, for presentation to George III in 1798.

  • Medium and techniques

    Album of specimens of calligraphy and paintings set into dyed paper margins decorated in ink and opaque water including metallic pigments and gold leaf; painted and lacquered bindings

    Measurements

    42.1 x 28.1 cm (book measurement (inventory))