The Rose and the Brush

Flower Paintings in India and Persia and their Connexion with European Botanical Illustrations (16th-18th c.)

Lunchtime lecture organised by the Church Conservation Trust, 8th December 2022

During the spring 1620, the emperor of the Mughal dynasty, Jahangir, visited the region of Kashmir. In his memoirs, he described with awe the colourful flowers he saw, all in bloom at this time of the year. He also related how he tasked one of his imperial artist, Mansur, to paint more than a hundred of these flowers.

This anecdote is often used as a starting point for the craze for floral motifs that inhabited Mughal art during the 17th century. While the love of the first Mughal emperors for nature is not to be understated, another source of inspiration became available to painters of the imperial workshop in the years 1620s: European herbaria and florilegia. The tulipomania that made Europe tremble at the end of the 1630s delivered a large production of printed flower books with botanically accurate illustrations, some of which travelled to India and Persia, where they were copied and adapted to local taste, resulting in large productions that echoed to all artistic media until the 19th century.

This conference offers some insights into the development of flower painting in Mughal India and Safavid Persia, in connexion with the production of botanical illustration in Europe. It also questions the notions of cultural exchanges, copy and adaptation, and global art history during the age of discovery.