Mobile menu

Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent

CAT. NO. 22

The Day of Judgement is discussed in a bathhouse Bukhara, 1540–1, with Mughal additions by Govardhan c.1605–10

Fol. 35v from a manuscript of the Khamsa of Nava’i (see cat. no. 21) | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint and leaf; text in black ink on gold-flecked paper; margins of gold-flecked paper | 34.6 × 23.0 cm (folio); 22.2 × 14.7 cm (panel) | RCIN 1005032.i

Your share link is...


This is the only sixteenth-century painting to survive in the Khamsa manuscript (see cat. no. 21), but areas of paint were scraped off and painted over by the Indian artist Govardhan.[71] The deliberately anti-illusionist geometric organisation of space is original, as is the interplay of colour and pattern in all but the foreground of the painting. But it is here that the figures have been given new life reflecting novel, Mughal conceptions of how the human form could be depicted. The painting elucidates the passage in Ali Shir Nava’i’s text describing an imaginary meeting in a bathhouse between the twelfthcentury Muslim theologian and philosopher from Herat, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, and his contemporary, Shah Muhammad of Khwarazm. Shah Muhammad (the stout, bearded man on the right) asks al-Razi (the bony-ribbed figure on the left) to describe the Day of Judgement. He replies that on that day too, rich and poor will be alike in their nakedness.[72]

In the top and right panels, we see the building from its exterior: the geometric forms of the dome and doorway stand against a shimmering gold sky filled with blossoming trees and gently gliding wisps of cloud. A date of 947 AH (AD 1540–1) written at the very end of the rooftop epigraphic inscription (Persian verses on the theme of the hammam) confirms that these areas of the painting belong to a sixteenth-century phase in the manuscript’s history. The upper half of  the interior view also dates to this period: the dome’s pendentives are ornamented with a typically Bukharan pair of angels sharing a cup of wine. Because all areas are given equal attention and ornament – the sky, the interior, the exterior – the space appears to condense, giving a sensation of flatness. This defining aesthetic of Iranian painting brings the viewer to an ideal, poetic space in which there is no single viewpoint nor fixed point in time.[73]

Govardhan was one of the leading Mughal painters of the seventeenth century. His father was also a painter in imperial service, so Govardhan’s training is likely to have begun at a young age.[74] Here, he removed then reworked the original figures of the clients inside the tiled hammam and the sternlooking door-keeper on its threshold. The incidental details of this steamy scene are remarkable: the bathhouse becomes a space of covert desire, the men linked by a network of intense gazes and tender hand gestures, deliberate references to the homoerotic practices for which the bathhouse was a traditionally notorious setting.[75] The doorkeeper standing in the antechamber, a space where clothes and social distinctions are removed, turns his head the other way. 

  • amal-e govardhan / the work of Govardhan

  • [71] Evident under microscopic examination.

    [72] See Yusupov ed. 1982, p. 29. For a similar hammam with its original figures intact see fol. 59r of the ‘Freer Jami’, a manuscript of the Haft Awrang (Freer Sackler 46.12), reproduced in Simpson 1998, pp. 28–9. 

    [73] Minissale 2007, pp. 31–2.

    [74] For his father, the artist Bhawani Das, see Verma 1994, pp. 160–2 and Okada 1992, pp. 185–215.

    [75] See Minissale 2007, pp. 81–2. 

  • From a manuscript presented to George III by Lord Teignmouth, Governor-General of India, c.1798