By Aparna Sud,
Mughal paintings were a unique blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles that flourished in India during the reign of the Mughal emperors from the 16th to 18th centuries. It was exclusively a court art and its developments depended to a large extent on the patron and his enthusiasm. Traditional Persian themes - battles, court scenes, receptions and legendary stories were richly captured with infinite detail by a team of artists.
Mughal painting began during the reign of emperor Humayun (1530-40). Returning from exile, Humayun brought with him two Persian artists to India, Mir-Sayyid Ali and Abd-us-samad. The earliest work that comes under the category of mughal painting is "The princess of the house of Timur". A painting that has been repainted throughout the Mughal era at the command of various emperors.
The greatest of the Mughal emperors, Akbar (1556-1605), ruled over a vast Indian empire and was its greatest patron of arts. He encouraged poets, scholars, and painters, making his court a center of culture. During his reign, about a hundred artists worked under the guidance of the two Persian artists. Akbar had a childlike love for tales and this is reflected in what he commissioned his artists to paint. The Mahabaratha, Ramayana and other Persian epics were illustrated. Mughal paintings were lively and realistic and showed increasing naturalism with illustrated animal fables, detailed landscape backgrounds and elements of individual portraiture.
The emperor Jahangir (1605-27) showed a strong patronage for paintings. During his reign, Mughal art became more refined with finer brushwork and lighter colours. He favoured paintings of events from his own life, and encouraged portraits and studies of birds, flowers and animals. "Jehangir-nama" - illustrated biography - contains among other pictorial idiosyncrasies paintings depicting the copulation of a saint and a tigress, the fight between spiders on the road which the emperor happened to see and the beheading of his rebellious son's supporters.
The elegance and richness of the Jahangir period style continued during the reign of Shah Jahan (1628-58) but with an increasing tendency to become cold and rigid. Genre scenes - such as musical parties, lovers on a terrace, or ascetics gathered around a fire - became frequent, and the trend continued in the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707). Despite a brief revival during the reign of Muhammad Shah (1719-48), Mughal painting continued to decline, and the creative activity ceased during the reign of Shah Alam II (1759-1806).