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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 14

Paintings of a pelican and the Virgin and Child.

Mughal, <i>c.</i>1605–10

Fol. 26v from a late eighteenth-century Mughal album | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint on paper; set into composite margins of gold metallic paint and opaque watercolour on plain and dyed papers; with black ink inscription | 32.8 × 22.4 cm (folio); 12.2 × 7.1 cm (image) | RCIN 1005069.aa

Fig. 38: Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), Madonna by the Tree, 1513, engraving, 11.7 × 7.4 cm, RCIN 800045©

And also We made the son of Mary and his mother a sign to mankind, and gave them a shelter on a peaceful hillside watered by a fresh spring

(Quran 23:50) [35]

This very fine painting is a colour reinterpretation by a Mughal artist of Madonna by the Tree, an engraving of 1513 by the German artist Albrecht Dürer.[36] Jesuit priests brought religious prints to use as tools in their missions at the Mughal court, and such seemingly ‘Christian’ imagery found its way into Mughal paintings, murals and decorative arts. One such priest, Jerome Xavier, recorded that in 1607 the Emperor Jahangir ordered his librarian at Lahore to fetch his albums of European engravings so the Jesuit fathers could explain to him the significance of their iconography and allegories.[37] Mary is nevertheless a highly important figure in Islam, and it is likely that the artist of this work associated the subject of the Dürer engraving with the above verse from the Quran rather than a Biblical reference. In the Dürer original the background is filled by an expanse of water, which the Mughal painter has swapped for a verdant hill, also replacing the rocky foreground with a small stream. The painter can perhaps be identified as the son of Aqa Reza, Abu'l-Hasan, who earned a similar title to Mansur (see cat. no. 13), Nadir al-Zaman, ‘Wonder of the Age’.[38] His early works include paintings based on European engravings including a Study of St John the Evangelist after another work by Dürer.[39]

As the pure woman chosen by God to become the mother of Jesus (Isa, the Messiah, though not according to the Quran the son of God), Mary (Mariam) is mentioned a total of 34 times in the Quran, even more than in the Bible. The Mughals also had a special connection to Mary in that they associated her story with the legend of another ‘immaculate woman’ of their own ancestry, the Mongol queen Alanqua.[40] The Emperor Akbar’s historian, Abu'l-Fazl, wrote that a ray of celestial light penetrated Alanqua’s tent and she ‘became pregnant by that light in the same way as did her Majesty Mariam’.[41] All of her descendants, from Genghis Khan down to the Mughal emperors, were said to bear this light. In accordance with their messianic self-fashioning, Akbar named his mother Mariam Makani (‘Placed with Mary’), and his son Jahangir gave his mother the title Mariam al-Zamani (‘Mary of the Age’).

An underdrawing visible through infrared reflectography shows that the image was not traced from the engraving and that many changes were made to the composition as the painting progressed, including the wonderful drapery of Mary’s vibrant blue cloak. Close inspection reveals areas of damage and several stages of poor overpainting and retouching in the background to the figures, the latest of which probably date to the mid-eighteenth century when the work was mounted into its present borders. 

  • hazrat-e mariam u hazrat-e isa / the blessed Mary and Jesus

  • [35] Translation in Mourad 2009, p. 169.

    [36] Another Mughal copy of the engraving can be found in the border of fol. 5r of Jahangir’s Album in the Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, A 117, on which see Verma 2011, p. 46, pl. 23.

    [37] BL Add. MS 9854, fol. 66r, cited in Bailey 1999,  p. 126.

    [38] For Abu'l-Hasan, see Beach, Goswamy and Fischer 2011, pp. 213–30.

    [39] Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, EA1978.2597.

    [40] For Mary in the Quran, see Mourad 2009. For Mary in Mughal thought see Bailey 1999.

    [41] Akbarnama, vol. 1, pp. 179–83. 

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