The Arts of Mughal India

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper; 30 x 22.1 cm (page); 13.6 x 6.4 cm (painting). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift in honor of Madeline Neves Clapp; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection, 2013.325 (recto).

Nur Jahan holding a portrait of Emperor Jahangir (detail), c. 1627

The Mughal Empire existed for more than 300 years, from the early 1500s until the arrival of British colonial rule in 1857, encompassing territory that included vast portions of the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan. The Mughal rulers were Central Asian Muslims who assimilated many religious faiths under their administration. Famed for its distinctive architecture, including the Taj Mahal, the Mughal Empire is also renowned for its colorful and engaging paintings. Many of these take the form of narrative tales that not only delight the eye but also reveal fascinating ways in which the empire’s diverse cultural traditions found their way into royal creative expressions. The centennial exhibition Art and Stories from Mughal India focuses on four stories—an epic, a fable, a mystic romance, and a sacred biography—embedded within the overarching story of the Mughals themselves as told through 100 paintings drawn from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s world-class holdings.

“Art and Stories from Mughal India” is on exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art until October 23rd 2016.  For further study and enjoyment you will find the following related books and others in the Fine Arts Department.

In the Realm of Gods and Kings : Arts of India by Andrew Topsfield
Celebrating the wealth and diversity of the arts of India created for the life of courts and temples from 1000 BC to the twentieth century, this book includes short background essays describing aspects of Indian life related to the works. Each work is appraised by an expert in the field and information includes narrative episodes from the epics, iconographic symbolism, and religious, social and other contextual information. 

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Princes and Painters by William Dalrymple
Between the years 1707 and 1857, the cultural center of Delhi in North India was the locus of a dramatic shift of power with the decline of the Mughal Empire and the rise of the British Raj. This critical transitional period altered Indian culture, politics, and art, and brought unprecedented artistic innovation and experimentation. Sumptuous color illustrations illuminate the pages of this book, painting a vivid portrait of this important city and its art, artists, and patrons. Masterworks by major Mughal artists, such as Nidha Mal and Ghulam Ali Khan, and works by non-Mughal artists demonstrate the dynamic interplay of artistic production at this time.

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Bejewelled Treaures by Susan Strong
This sumptuous book invites readers to examine in exquisite detail some of the world’s finest and rarest examples of Indian jewelry from one of the world’s preeminent collections, objects once owned by the great maharajas, nizams, sultans, and emperors of India from the 17th to the 20th century. Highlights include a rare gold finial from the throne of Tipu Sultan (1750–1799), inlaid with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds and in the shape of a tiger’s head, and a dagger with a stunningly carved jade hilt and a watered steel blade inlaid with gold owned by Shah Jahan. 

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Unfolding by Maggie Baxter
On contemporary fibre and fabric in India, this book looks at new interpretations made within the current cultural landscape by designers who dare to take steps into the unknown. Traditional techniques and motifs are reworked in atypical, up-to-date ways, creating a fresh new visual language that is still identifiably Indian. Separate chapters examine the work of 23 designers and artists in terms of craft revival, surface treatment, texture, minimalism, and narrative. Raw Mango, for example, glories in the drenched color of the cones of pure color pigments found in Indian markets, creating saris of extreme color that are both minimalist and overpoweringly intense; while bai lou reposition the delicate motifs of Bengali jamdani, scaling them up into bold, oversized, geometric shapes. 

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Paintings from Mughal by Andrew Topsfield
A unique style of painting developed in India during the reigns of the Mughal emperors (sixteenth-eighteenth century), which blended Indian, Persian and Islamic styles. Usually confined to book illustrations, these elegant works came to be known as Mughal miniatures. They reflect the splendour of the Mughal empire, depicting its art and architecture, from court scenes to legendary stories, in striking, vivid colours. This book reproduces some of the finest surviving examples of Mughal paintings drawn from a unique collection in the Bodleian Library, many of which have never been seen before in print. They include court paintings from the reign of Akbar to the fall of Shah Jehan (1560-1660), generally regarded as the most inspired century of Mughal painting.