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Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent

CAT. NO. 9

Poetry in a garden by La'l, calligraphy by Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri Mughal, c.1600

Folio from an early Mughal album (see cat. no. 3) | A composite page: ink, watercolour and opaque watercolour, including gold metallic paint, on plain, dyed and marbled papers; set into margins of gold metallic paint on light blue paper | 37.1 × 24.0 cm (folio); 24.7 × 13.4 cm (panel) | RCIN 1005047

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This scene takes place in an enclosed formal garden. A young prince reads aloud to his two companions as he casually reclines under a beautifully embroidered silk awning. There is poetry, wine, music and conversation – the essential components of a convivial majlis (‘assembly’) as referred to in the first couplet of the text arranged above and below the painting.

The painter of this image was La'l, a senior master in the studio of the Emperor Akbar, much of whose work follows earlier Iranian pictorial conventions. The octagonal pool is depicted from an elevated view and one of the younger companions lifts his finger up to his mouth in a gesture traditionally used in Iranian painting to denote an emotional reaction. The youths correspond in visual terms to the ideal of the ‘moon-faced’ youths of Persian poetry with narrow eyes,[29] yet their dress places them firmly in an Akbari temporal sphere. The second poem includes a couplet[30] that appropriately compares the addressee to Joseph, celebrated in Persian literature as the archetype of young, radiant beauty. 

EH/ASMC

  • ustad la'l / master La'

  • [29] For the moon-faced beauty, a trope probably derived from late Buddhist sculpture, see Melikian-Chirvani 1990.

    [30] The couplet translates as ‘the moment you enter the school, all the children / Can recite nothing other than the Chapter of Joseph’ (translation by Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani). 

  • Entered the Royal Collection by 1728