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Creator Nationality: Asian; Indian Sub-Continent; Indian
Creator Dates/Places: North Indian
Creator Active Place: North Indian
Creator Name-CRT: North Indian
Title: Death of a Prisoner
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1583
Creation End Date: 1587
Creation Date: Akbar period, c. 1585
Creation Place: India, Uttar Pradesh, Lahore area
Object Type: Drawings and Watercolors
Materials and Techniques: Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
Parts and Pieces: folio from a Ta'rikh-i Alfi manuscript
Dimensions: 16 x 8 5/8 in. (40.6 x 21.9 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.056
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: Illustrations in books and small-scale paintings grouped in albums or sets are among the most important art forms produced in India from the 16th through 19th centuries. During this period, much of northern India was ruled by the Mughals, a dynasty of Central Asian origins that had entered northern India from Afghanistan in 1526. The interest in spatial depth and naturalistic treatment of figures within architectural or landscape settings seen in this illustration from a manuscript of the Ta'rikh-i Alfi (History of a Thousand Years) exemplify the style of painting produced in the 16th century at the court of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar (r. 1556-1605). Akbar and his successors were active patrons of the arts, and painting flourished at the Mughal court from the 16th through 18th centuries. As was often true of Muslim rulers, the Mughal emperors were deeply interested in history--their own, that of their illustrious forebears such as Timur (Tamerlane), and that of Islam. Paintings produced at the Mughal court often illustrated either historical themes or the activities and achievements of the emperors.
The Ta'rikh-i Alfi is one of the many works of history and literature commissioned by Akbar. A new history of the Islamic world, the manuscript was intended to encompass everything that had happened to Islam since the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Akbar commissioned the book about 1581/82, and it is believed to have been completed between 1592/93 and 1594/95. Most of the work involved in the production of this manuscript was done in Lahore. The text is infused with Akbar's liberal religious sentiments and implies that Akbar was the Iman Mahdi, a reformer whose appearance at the end of Islam's first millennium would forestall the apocalypse. Many of the verses in the Ta'rikh-i Alfi were considered heretical, and it is believed that one of the individuals who wrote the text was murdered.
The completed manuscript is unusual among the books produced at Akbar's court, bothfor its relatively large size and for the prominence given to the written text. On this folio, the text fills most of the center of the page and all of the verso, and records events that occurred during the caliphate of al-Ma'mun, focusing on the struggles for political power that occurred between 815 and 816. Among the events mentioned are the rebellion of Ibrahim al-Jazzar (whose name means 'the butcher') in the province of Yemen, the ambiguous end of this rebellion, the journey of the forces of Ibrahim al-Jazzar and Zaya al-Nar to fight a rebellion in Iraq, and the killing of King Leo and the ascension of King Michael in Byzantium. The text also mentions that al-Ma'mun had his opponent Yahya b. Amir stoned to death for insubordination during this period. It is possible that this last incident is alluded to in the central scene, which shows a barely clothed prisoner with shackled legs lying in a courtyard. The prisoner appears dead, but there is no evidence of the means of his death. The vignettes along the border of the painting may also refer to the political unrest that plagued this period of al-Ma'mun's caliphate. Numerous figures are shown talking agitatedly and meeting in doorways and gardens, suggesting intrigue and unrest.
Akbar's wide-ranging interests are reflected in the paintings produced at his court, which often reveal an amalgamation of sources. For example, the theme illustrated in this painting derives from Iranian examples, but the poses of the figures and their somewhat exaggerated gestures reflect the influence of earlier Indian styles. The use of a type of atmospheric perspective in the background at the top of the page reflects the influence of European prints on the art of Akbar's court.
Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, , p. 28.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 74-75, 76, 77.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 56, 126-27.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.056
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights:
Copyright, Asia Society
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