In collaboration with Anne-Sophie Joncoux-Pilorget, Marie-Christine David and Armen Tokatlian.
See Millon et Associés website for the full auction catalogue.
Illustration of the life of Shah Jahan entering (?) his palace in Burhanpur
Previously unseen painting probably intended to the Windsor Padshahnamah.
Signed ‘Abid, brother of Nadir al-Zaman al-Mashhadi
Dated the 3rd reign year of Shah Jahan, located in Burhanpur
India, Mughal art, 1630-31
On the reverse, poetic quatrain signed by the calligrapher ‘Imad al-Hassani
Mounted on an album page from the St Petersbourg album
Page: 47.5 x 32.3 cm
Painting: 30.1 x 20 cm
Calligraphy panel: 32.9 x 17.8cm
By inheritance, Antoine Kitabgi Khan (1843-1902), senior officer of the Qajar Empire.
dar balda-i burhanpur bi-itmam rasid sana 3
It was completed in the city of Burhanpur, (regnal) year 3.
‘amal-i ghulam-i tamam ikhlas ‘abid baradar-i nadir al-zaman al-mashhadi
Work of the completely sincere slave, ‘Abid, the brother of Nadir al-Zaman al-Mashhadi.
Of Shah Jahan
abu’l-muzaffar shahab al-din muhammad sahib qiran-i thani shah jahan
Abu’l-Muzaffar Shahab al-Din Muhammad, second Lord of the auspicious convergence (of Jupiter and Venus), Shah Jahan
Quatrain poem, roba’i, signed « by the humble and poor ‘Emad al-Hassani, that his sins and faults be forgiven».
The Historical Context
Shah Jahan ascends the throne of the Mughal Empire in 1628, after his father Jahangir and following a violent rivalry with his brothers. His reign is marked by the continuation of the military conquests initiated by his predecessors, and more especially the annexation of the Rajput kingdoms, followed, a few years later, by the conquest of the Deccan. The large extension of the Mughal empire during the reign of Shah Jahan brings him to endow the particular title “Sahib-e Qiran-i thani”, written in our painting on the parasol shading the emperor, in reference to the mythical conqueror, Alexander the Great, well known in the Indian tradition to have crossed the Indus river.
Because of his military conquests in the Deccan, Shah Jahan spends a great deal of his time in Burhanpur, which becomes the empire capital city between 1630 and 1632. The painting offered here shows the emperor entering the city in 1630-31. This is where Mumtaz Mahal passes away in labour, after having given birth to their 14th child, in June 1631.
Shah Jahan brings her body back to Agra where he commissioned the Taj Mahal to serve as her tomb. The emperor gets ill in 1658, causing a revolt among his descendants. Awrangzeb, his third son, takes the power in 1659 and imprisons his father in Agra Red Fort. Shah Jahan remains there until his death in 1666, before joining his late wife in the Taj Mahal.
The Painter: ‘Abid (born c. 1590, active between 1604 and 1645)
Born in the workshop of the imperial library, ‘Abid is the son of the Persian painter Aqa Riza, who joined the Mughal court in 1589. ‘Abid was maybe the greatest painter of Shah Jahan workshop that he joined around 1615. His talent for depicting the portraits of small and great men is respected by all, as we can observe in the foreground of our painting. His reputation only grows under Shah Jahan reign; under Jahangir, he was probably outshined by his father and his brother (Nadir al-Zaman al-Masshadi) who started his career under Akbar and gained great favour under the emperor.
‘Abid is particularly renowned for his scenes of court, procession and battle. He illustrates two pages of the Windsor Padshahnamah 1, the official chronicles of Shah Jahan reign. Son of Aqa Riza, he was trained in the Safavid tradition that he honours in his illustration of Sa’di Bustan2. This legacy is also present in the painting we are offering, through the ornamentation of the Emperor’s elephant saddle pad, showing a classical scene of Persian painting. ‘Abid excels in complex compositions with rich assembly of noble men, or soldiers where each character is individualised. Results a keen sense of personality, as well as realism and an authenticity rarely seen in painting of that time.
His signed works are rare, hence the particularly importance of our painting that joins his known corpus. According to Milo Beach, the first painting signed by ‘Abid dates from the second year of Shah Jahan reign, 1629-30. It is a page of the “Late Shah Jahan album”, nevertheless attributed to the Windsor Padshanamah3. Our painting dated of the third year of Shah Jahan reign corresponds to the year 1630-31. In consequence, it is the second work of the painter referenced. The third belongs to the Windsor Padshahnamah, and was produced around 16334. ‘Abid also illustrates a later scene attributed to the Windsor Padshanamah, dated December 19, 1639, bearing the autograph signature of the painter5.
A page attributed to ‘Abid is also mounted in the St Petersburg album and bears margins decorated with ornamental vines and birds very similar to ours. Assigned to the Windsor Padshanamah by Anatoly Ivanov6, the scene shows the capture of an Uzbek camp by the Mughal armies during the battle of Balkh in 1647, led by the young Awrangzeb. The precision of portraiture and the dynamism of the painting drive the attribution to ‘Abid7. The probable date of the painting, during or shortly after the battle, push further the painter chronology.
The precious information written by the painter specify that the event takes place during the third year of the emperor reign (1630-31) at Burhanpur. The presence of Shah Jahan three eldest sons, princes Dara Shokuh (sat behind the emperor waving the flyswatter), Shah Shuja’ and Awrangzeb (on the second elephant), and several court officials (in the foreground) evoke an imperial procession. The quality of the portraits allows us to identify Asaf Khan on his horse, father of Mumtaz Mahal, father-in-law of the emperor and prime minister. Shaykh Nazir (striped black and white jama) is also recognizable. On the right, we distinguish the door of a palace or the city of Burhanpur, and in the background a long golden wall, simulating the inlays in pietra dura typical of the sumptuous constructions realized during the reign of Shah Jahan, of which the Taj Mahal is the most beautiful example.
The official chronicles of the emperor are narrated in the “Padshahnamah”, literally “Chronicle of the Emperor “. Several versions of these chronicles exist, the most exhaustive being the version of Abdul Hamid Lahori written partly from the incomplete work of Qazvini and completed in 1648.
Copied in refined calligraphy by Muhammad Amin al-Mashhadi, completed in 1657, this manuscript was sent in 1799 by the Nawab ofthe Awadh province to King George III of Great Britain, and is today preserved in the royal collections, hence its name of Royal Padshahnamah. It would be useful to refer to the text in order to identify more precisely the scene. In this exceptional manuscript are two paintings of ‘Abid: folio 93v (the death of Khan Jahan Lodi) and folio 191v (Jahangir receiving Prince Khurram). If it is accepted that the 44 illustrations of Lahori Padshanamah were added to the text after its completion around 1657, thus establishing that the workshop drew from a stock of paintings previously produced and without any direct link, the connection to other paintings including three of ‘Abid by Milo Beach8, and the fact that the manuscript of Lahori is incomplete, suggest that our painting was commissioned to illustrate an event described in the official chronicles. Our painting is added to this corpus.
Mir ‘Emad al-Hassani is one of the most famous Persian calligraphers of the seventeenth century by the amount of quatrains signed by his hand. Despite this, little information has been received about his life. We know from sources that he was born in Qazvin around 1553-1554 and died in 1615. Very young, he entered an apprenticeship with the calligrapher Malik Dailami († 1564-62), before leaving for Tabriz the year of the death of his master. He was then taken under the wing of Muhammad-Husain Tabrizi, another great calligrapher of his time. In 1573-74, Mir ‘Emad was back in the capital, Qazvin where he continued his training with the master of nasta’liq,’ Isa Beg Rangkar, and began to produce signed and dated works.
At the end of his apprenticeship, Mir ‘Emad became a traveling calligrapher, going from town to town to complete various commissions. In 1600, he went to Isfahan, named capital of Iran by Shah ‘Abbas I two years earlier, and entered the service of the ruler. He worked at the shah’s personal service for several years, surrounded himself with students and took a full part in court intrigues. His rivalry with the calligrapher ‘Ali Riza-i Abbasi and his tempestuous character ended up tainting his reputation and exasperating the shah who, it is said, expressed his dissatisfaction with the calligrapher, thus precipitating his fate.
On the 30 Rajab 1024 / 25th August 1615, ‘Emad al-Hassani is assassinated in an alley of the city. Full of regret, Shah Abbas holds funerals in great pomp for the fallen calligrapher. His family fled Isfahan shortly thereafter for fear of reprisals. His nephew ‘Abd al-Rashid left for India where he became a calligrapher at the court of Mughal Emperors Jahangir, then Shah Jahan. The latter would have offered the position of captain (yaksadi) to all those who would bring him a signed specimen of Mir ‘Emad.
The work of Mir ‘Emad is characterized by his mastery of Nasta’liq and a perfectly controlled writing, allowing the artist to trace his poetic quatrains in a single take, without subsequent retouching. More than 900 signed pieces are nowadays kept in the world9, the St Petersburg album being the most important ensemble.
The page on which are mounted the painting and the calligraphy is to link to the album preserved in Saint Petersburg (E14), presumably compiled between 1735 and 1759 by Mahdi Khan Astarabadi, the secretary and official chronicler of Nader Shah (r. 1736-1747)10. He added to the items in his possession the many paintings acquired from Nader Shah’s army from the sack of Delhi in 173911, including an illustration of the Padshanamah.
The pages of the St. Petersburg album measure 47.5 x 33 cm, against 47.5 x 32.3 cm for our page which was certainly slightly trimmed, perhaps when it was detached from the collection.
The album includes a large number of Mughal paintings associated with Persian paintings contemporary to the compilation and Emad-Hassani’s calligraphies, all surrounded by dark blue margins covered with golden arabesques. The page offered here presents almost identical motifs in style and execution to one page of the album detached from the album and kept in the Freer Gallery in Washington12. The same way, the colorful birds in grapevines are identical in all respects to a double page of the album bearing two Mughal paintings depicting the Safavid ruler Shah Abbas on one side, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir on the other13.
These margins covered with grape vines appear in several instances in the album and present only very light variations of patterns, but systematically accompany Mughal paintings. On the other hand, all of Emad al-Hassani’s calligraphies bear only dark blue margins covered with gilded motifs, bringing a real harmony to the ensemble. The presence of “Shah Jahan in the Darbar” (p.34a), painted by ‘Abid and linked to the Royal Padshanamah by Milo Beach, confirms that’ Abid paintings for royal chronicles were added to the Saint Petersburg Album. Given the material and stylistic similarities, the attribution of the Royal Padshanamah page to the Saint Petersburg album is particularly meaningful.
Antoine Kitabgi was born in 1843 in Constantinople into a modest Armenian Catholic family of Georgian origin. His father was a supplier of water pipes to the Sultan, decorated with precious stones. In 1870, he married Philomène Altounian, a Catholic Armenian whose parents were from the New Julfa neighbourhood in Isfahan, Iran. In Constantinople, Kitabgi was a regular supplier of the Sultan’s tailor and arms supplier to the War Ministry. Following the serious turmoil that agitated the Ottoman Empire in 1876, the prosperity of Kitabgi’s activities declined and he was forced in October 1877 to leave for Europe. In 1878 in Paris, he met Persian dignitaries busy preparing the arrival of the shah Nasser al-Din in France. In October 1879, Kitabgi moved to Tehran and in 1881 became General Director of Persian Customs, a position of particular importance since taxes on imports and exports were the only income of the Persian State. Upon his departure in 1893, the net revenue of customes for the treasury will have increased by 75%, which led Kitabgi to be decorated with the order of the Lion and the Sun and to receive from the Shah, although he had no military functions, the honorific rank of General and the title of Khan in thanks for his services. In April 1889, Kitabgi was part of the royal escort that accompanied Nasser al-Din to Europe and occupied room 17 at Buckingham Palace during the shah’s visit to Queen Victoria. At the end of 1893, Kitabgi moved to Paris with his family. In 1901, he obtained with his partner d’Arcy the oil concession in Persia. In August 1902, he joined the suite of Mozaffa al-Din Shah who made his second trip to Europe. A photograph shows him in the middle of the shah escort, posing on the yacht HMY Victoria and Albert II alongside King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra, the Prince and the Princess of Wales. He died in Livorno on December 20, 1902. The Kitabgi family’s ties with Iran continued after his death through his three sons. It is by Vincent that the work we present here has reached us.
For more information, see the article in Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 16, 2018.
Abdu’l-Hamid Lahori, Badsha-nama, éd. Trad. H.M. Eliot, Shah Jahan, Cornell, 1875.
A. Adamova, Medieval Persian Painting, New York, 2008.
A. Akimushkin et alii, The St. Petersburg Muraqqa’, 2 vol., Milan, 1996.
Q. Ahmad Calligraphers and Painters, éd. V. Minorsky; 3 vol., Washington, 1959.
M.C. Beach, The Grand Mogul, Williamstown, 1978
Id. , E. Koch, King of the World The Padshahnama: An Imperial Mughal Manuscript from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, Londres, 1997
S. Cary Welch, The Emperors’ Album: Images of Mughal India, 1987
I. Imbert, La peinture de fleurs persane et indienne de la période moderne (XVIe-XVIIIe siècles), thèse de doctorat de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2015 (inédit).
J. Seyller, Workshop and Patron in Mughal India, the Freer Ramayana and Other Illustrated Manuscripts of ‘Abd al-Rahim, Washington, 1999.
A. Tokatlian. Persian Treasures in Erevan, Gand, 2013.
S.P. Verma, Mughal Painters and Their Work: A Biographical Survey and Comprehensive Catalogue, Oxford, 1994.
Catalogue note: We wish to thank Isabelle IMBERT, Armen TOKATLIAN and Marie-Christine DAVID for their help.
- F. 94b, “The death of Khan Jahan Lodi”, and f. 192b “Jahangir receiving Prince Khurram”.
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian ,inv. n°LTS1995.2.190
- M.Beach, King of the world, the Padshanamah, 1997, p.213. Shah Jahan Enthroned with Mahabat Khan and a Shaykh, from the Late Shah Jahan Album, dated 1629-1630
- F. 94b “The death of Khan Jahan Lodi“ refers to an event in February 1631. See Windsor Padshahnamah.
- “Shah Jahan enthroned”, San Diego Museum of Art, acc. No. 1990 :0352
- A. Ivanov, dans O. Akimushkin et alii ,1996, vol. I, p. 95.
- E-14, fol. 54r, pl. 133. O. Akimushkin et alii, 1996.
- See Milo Beach, appendices, p. 219. “Shah enthroned with Mahabat Khan and a Cheykh” (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian, S1986.406, Late Shah Jahan Album) ; “Shah Jahan in Darbar” ( Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of sciences, St Petersburg, MS. E. 14, p. 34a) ; St Petersburg Album and “Shah Jahan enthroned2 (San Diego Museum of Art, acc.no. 1990 :0352, Album Ardeshir).
- O. Akimushkin dans A. Ivanov et alii, 1996, p. 45.
- A. Tokatlian, Persian Treasures in Erevan, Gand, 2013, pp.42-43
- During the sack, orchestrated in 1739, the Mughal treasure is looted and a large number of manuscripts and paintings are brought back to Iran, including paintings from the Padshahnamah. Subsequently, the most beautiful Mughal paintings are mounted in new albums decorated to the Persian taste, including the Saint Petersburg album or the so-called Dorn albums also preserved in Russia and very similar by their ornamentation.
- Inv. F1942.15b. O. Akimushkin et alii 1996, pl. 206.
- E-14 fol. 37r-8r, O. Akimushkin et alii 1996, pl. 102-103.