A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

Note: Comments are moderated. If you include a link, your comment will not be published. As you will note, I do not accept ads on my website and that includes in comments.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The "Miracle of the Age" - a Forerunner of Audubon

Los Borrachos or The Drunks, 1629, by Diego Velázquez.
Velázquez served as court painter for Philip IV of Spain.

Court painters were artists who were employed by members of a royal or noble family.  Sometimes they were given a fixed salary; sometimes they were employed on an exclusive basis.  In some eras and locations, this freed them from the restrictions of their local guilds.  Hans Dürer, Jan van Eyck, Francisco Goya, Hans Holbein the Younger, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Diego Velázquez are some of the European artists who spent time as court painters.  Some, such as Velázquez, also served other capacities in court, such as diplomats or administrators.

The Mughal ruler Jahangir, 1617, attributed to Abu al-Hasan.
Measuring six feet tall, this is a life-size painting and sold
At Bonhams in April of  2011 for approx. $2,239,482.

In Islamic cultures, notably between the 14th and 17th centuries, rulers maintained ateliers or court workshops for artists, in particular for miniaturists, calligraphers, and other artists and craftsmen.  These became the princely courts' focus of patronage, whether Muslim or Hindu.  The Mughal emperors were keenly interested in recording their reflections on art, science, and the world around them. Jahangir, son of Akbar and father of Shah Jahan of Taj Mahal fame, was especially known for his love of nature and his writing.  He recorded detailed descriptions of wildlife in his memoirs, the Jahangirnama.

A Nilgai Ibue cow by Mansur, courtesy of Wikigallery.
A turkey cock by Mansur, 1612.

Jahangir was a keen birdwatcher and observer of animals.  Even zoologists had not discovered the gestation period of elephants until the mid-nineteenth century, but Jahangir had estimated that it was approximately eighteen months in the early seventeenth century.  He was a connoisseur of art, and his court painters, of whom he was justly very proud, have provided scholars today with accurate records of his time and reign.  One of his court painters was Ustad Mansur.

Portrait of a falcon from north India, 1619.
Image courtesy of Wikigallery.
Indian lapwing, 1600.  Image courtesy of Wikigallery.

Ustad Mansur began his career as a minor painter in the court of Akbar.  When he was painting in the court of Jahangir, he became noted for his depictions of plants and animals.  His attained such skills that Jahangir dubbed him Nadir-ul-Asar, or "Miracle of the Age".  ("Ustad" means "master.)

A chameleon, which may have acquired from traders at Goa.
Image courtesy Royal Library, Windsor.

Because of his interest in nature, and it was customary for Mughal rulers to keep zoos and gardens of exotic plants, Jahangir bought rare creatures from the Portuguese colony of Goa on the western coast of India.  One of these creatures was the dodo.  Mansur was the first artist to paint the dodo (that we have extant proof) and it is thanks to his painting that we know what it looked like.  Others have produced images of the dodo, but from skeletal remains and eyewitness account; Mansur painted his from life.

Mansur's depiction of a dodo, center, c. 1610.
The others are (clockwise from upper left):
Loriculus galgulus, Tragopan melanocephalus,
Anser indicus, and Pterocles indicus.

Mansur also was the first to paint a Siberian Crane (also known as a Snow Crane), and painted the rare Bengal Florican, or Bengal Bustard.  Both the Siberian Crane and the Bengal Florican are signed works, and can be viewed in the Kolkata Indian Museum.

A Himilayan cheer pheasant.
One of several zebras Mansur painted.

Most of Mansur's work is unsigned, which is a hallmark of Mughal painting - the genre did not celebrate the individual fame of the artist.  In the Jahangirnama it states that on a trip to the Kashmir Valley, Mansur painted over a hundred flowers.

This tulip painting is the only signed flower painting.
It states:  "Jahangirshahi, the work of the slave of the
Presence-Chamber, Mansur Naqqash, c. 1610."
Image courtesy of this site. 
This painting, Squirrels in a Plane Tree, has been
attributed to Abu al-Hasan, a student of Mansur, but
since its title reads "Nadir al-Asr" it may likely be a
collaboration between the two.  Since the subjects
are European squirrels, the artist either accompanied
Jahangir to Europe, or these squirrels were brought to
India.  Image courtesy of the British Library.

Mansur's talents were well-adapted for scientific documentation, and his works are valuable for their accuracy.  Although unsigned, some have been attributable because of Jahangir's written praise for his work.  His studies of nature are unsurpassed today, and his reputation as a stellar artist has grown.  He remains today Nadir-ul-Asar.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

No comments:

Post a Comment