In Mughal painting, the style is commonly referred to as nim-qalam (half-pen). As in Iran, painters in India ink often painted over the ink outlines with various shades of light tinted wash in carefully modulated tones to give roundness and form to the figures. Some of the earliest and most famous Mughal examples are those in which Indian artists copied monochrome European engravings brought to India by traders and Jesuit missionaries. The ink drawing technique perfectly echoes the look of the prints and it is possible that the Mughal artists assumed the European works were also produced using a pen or brush, rather than an engraving burin and press.
The style continued to be popular in the 17th century and was often used to paint scenes of ascetics and other holy figures. The nim-qalam technique was only rarely used for portraits. For these, painters mostly used full colour washes, with perhaps just the hands and faces left plain.
While much Indian painting is recognisable from its bold, bright colours, the arrival of the Mughals introduced a new colour palette and different styles of painting to the subcontinent. The earliest painters at the Mughal court were Persian-trained and one of the techniques they brought with them was that known as siah-qalam (black pen). This was a style of drawing in ink with sweeping lines, the origins of which can be found in Chinese drawings imported during the Il-Khanid era. The style became increasingly popular in the Timurid and Safavid periods, with many examples surviving in muraqqa albums.
During the 17th century, the style was also taken up by artists in the Deccan and further across India. It was combined with local drawing techniques and colour schemes and now such works are sometimes mistaken as being unfinished.
In early 18th century Udaipur (Rajasthan), an anonymous artist favoured the nim-qalam approach in his imperial portraits and paintings of the court. The buildings, trees, flowers and certain details of the figures are in colour but the backgrounds in his paintings remain plain.
Exhibition Review: Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire at British Library. Author: Sairandhri Raut
Lady with Huqqa and Deer, Jaipur India, circa 1800
Early this year British Library presented a grand exhibition based exclusively around Mughal period in the subcontinent covering its art, culture and empire. The curator of Visual Arts at British Library, Dr. Malini Roy meticulously recreated a courtly spirit around an exhibition which traversed through exquisite miniature paintings, illuminated manuscripts and gave an illustrated account of the histories of Mughal emperors and the cultural flair of their respective reign.
A refreshing reminiscent of the Mughal period this exhibition only furthered the interest that Mughal art had always attracted. Introducing the period from 16th to late 17th century Mughals were active patrons of art and culture that quickly flourished integrating different styles and sensibilities of diverse regions across the subcontinent to assimilate into one distinguished and prominent visual imagery that continues to remind us of the golden period in art.
Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire explored not just the art and the culture but through the vast number of works on display it also gave one an idea of a way of life and living. For instance, one of the miniature paintings on display was a portrait of a lady sitting with a hookah in a seemingly simplistic and tranquil landscape titled Muttubby, mistress of Ashraf ‘Ali Khan (fig.1) attributed to Dip Chand, Patna, 1764. This illustration of a person sitting accompanied by a hookah is a conventional profile in many courtly miniature portraits.
The significance of the image corresponds to many cues that tell us more than what meets the eye of the person in the portrait; his/her social position and the physical disposition which presumably could be related to either idle moments of contemplation or a forlorn existence in the anticipation of a loved one. Further on, the presence of hookah is representational of more than a simple smoking device; it is a characteristic feature of quintessential portraiture where the status and social standing as well as moments of solitary existence across different sections of society is portrayed.
Taking another example, not from this exhibition but relevant for this observation is Lady in a Landscape with huqqa held by a child, a deer between them (fig.2), an 18th century Rajasthani miniature from the private collection of Dr. Alice Bonner which now forms a part of Mughal Art Network Collection (see attached illustration). This miniature while having an almost similar composition of a placid background divided by clouds, plains and green landscape to the one from the exhibition is distanced only by region and date of its production. Therefore, the idea of representing reality by means of highlighting the most detailed aspects is consistent and prevalent in most of mughal art.
Lastly, it would not be an overstatement to make that this seminal exhibition accomplished to recreate in our imagination the artistic legacy of the Mughals by exhibiting total of 200 works; a large part from British library collection and the remaining from Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the British Museum (London), the Royal Asiatic Society (London), the Bodleian Library (Oxford), the India Office Library Collection (London) and the Royal Collection (Windsor). The exhibition ended in April 2013, nevertheless, you can find more information about it in a published catalogue.
The Golden Age of Mughal Art: A Posthumous Portrait Of Mughal Emperor Timur (Also Known As Tamerlaine) Seated On A Golden Throne. Deccan, Circa Late 18th Century.
Example of a Mughal painting during 18th Century.
Posthumous portrait of Mughal Emperor Timur (also known as Tamerlaine) seated on a golden throne. Deccan, circa late 18th century. Opaque watercolour with tooled gold on wasli (hand-made paper for miniature painting) with woven fabric applied as borders. 24.2 x 16.8cm.
The tooling of the gold leaf in this painting is more expertly done than is usual, with striations and pin-pricks around the outer band to the medallion around his neck, and with texture being applied to the entire surface of his tunic. This predominance of gold indicates the painting, which otherwise would be hard to determine whether of Mughal or Deccani school, is of the latter.
In Mughal paintings featuring Timur on the same throne it is not usually golden, but as ever such attributions may be open to doubt because Aurangzeb’s campaign to extend the Mughal empire ever-further south led to vast numbers of Rajasthani rulers and noblemen being stationed throughout northern parts of Deccan for many years. It is known that there they employed Deccani painters in their camps, some of who are believed to have followed them back to Rajasthan at the end of the campaign, with Hyderabad and Golconda in ruins and the Marathas in more or less continual plunder of the former Sultanates.
The iconography for this painting had become well established in the 18th century. Similar comparable examples may be found in Sotheby’s 26 4 1990 lot 5, ‘Mughal mid-17th century’; The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, ‘The emperor Timur enthroned’, MS. Douce Or. a.1;
For more examples of art from this golden period click here.