Akbarnama : Paintings of Mughal Costumes, Ornaments and Cultural History of India

A Nawab of Mughal dynasty, India, 17th-18th century
Nawab of Mughal Dynasty
Colour and Gold on paper

Costumes and ornaments are proof of a person's wealth. In past, the Kings and Emperors had immense wealth. Their costumes revealed the weight of their wealth. 

The costumes and jewellery worn by the royal family members in India during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries displayed how wealthy they were. The emperors and Rajput kings. 

When Humayun, The emperor of India, called two of the greatest artists belonging to the Bihzad school of Persian Paintings, he would have not imagined how this would affect the art of Indian paintings. He did not know that along with the scenes of bravery, those paintings would showcase the costumes and ornaments they wear. These two artists gave lessons in drawing and miniature painting to the Indian artists. With this happening, the real tale of Mughal Miniature started. With the miniature paintings, the other schools of the painting depicting the real life of the people of contemporary India flourished.

Emperor Akabar, who was the son of Humayun, promoted the Indian Art of Miniature paintings. Here the miniature painting of A Nawab of Mughal dynasty, India, the 17th-18th century is given. Description: Colour and gold on paper. Look at the decorative clothes the man is wearing.

Art History: Though based on Persian Miniatures, the Mughal Miniatures are a combination of Indian domestic art and foreign art. While the Persian painting preferred decorative details over the other aspects, the Indian artists modified the style of miniature painting by adding a realistic style. This evolved a distinctive style of painting known as Mughal Miniatures. Emperor Akbar and the Rajput kings of northern India helped these artists. 

The Mughal miniature paintings are done in India during the time of the kings of the Mughal dynasty, especially in the early years. The Mughal dynastic line from Timur to Aurangzeb ruled major parts of India from 1370 till 1857. But the real rulers were Akbar, Jahangir and his contemporaries who lived during the 16th and 17th century. After the death of Akbar, his son Jahangir and grandson Shahjahan kept the same artistic flame burning. They insisted on adding certain modern themes like realism to the miniature painting. So the artists depicted the natural scenes in the miniatures.

Mumtaz Mahal
Mumtaz Mahal 

Emperor Akbar had established a special workshop facility for the Miniature artists, in the city of Fatehpur Sikri near Delhi. These miniature artists would work in a team. One artist would decide the drawing and the general plan of a painting. Here is the painting of the Wife of Emperor Shahjahan, Mumtaz Mahal

In fact, the miniature artist would be the person who would decide the entire composition of a painting. Another assistant artist would fill the painting with all the required colours, as instructed by the main artist. The master artists would then shape out the faces and other details, rendering the objects looking more beautiful. Thus a final art piece would be the work of a team.

Emperor Akbar was used to seeing every painting, rewarding the artists, especially for an outstanding painting. Akbar liked the scenes depicting the battlefields, warriors in action, and the courts of the emperor. He even liked the women of his family painted. The painting given here is of his wife, Jodhabai. She was the daughter of the Rajput king. Akbar had married her to reconfirm that he did recognize all the religions similar. 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Idealized Portrait of the Mughal
Empress Nur Jahan (1577-1645)
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Costumes Depicted in Indian Miniature Art: Indian costumes are as varied as the people of India residing in a vast country. Lifestyle and clothes are described in literature and art. The Miniature paintings done during the seventeenth and nineteenth century have done a good recording of the exotic costumes and the dresses worn by Indian men and women. 

Look at the miniature painting given here. It depicts the contemporary Costumes of India when the Mughal dynasty ruled over India. These paintings have described the choices of princes and princesses about how to wear and what to wear. The costumes and ornaments were symbols of their status and hierarchy they belong to in the social ladder. The artists doing miniatures have tried to depict most of the styles of dresses worn by the Indian in the post-medieval period in India.

Marriage Ceremony La'l, Sanwala

Costumes of People in Court: While looking at the Mughal miniatures we can draw a conclusion that these paintings resemble the Persian style of painting. It is so because the artists who did Mughal era paintings in India had got training from the painters who migrated from Persia, today’s Iran.

In the miniature painting given here, a marriage ceremony of Adhamkhan is depicted. This painting is illustrated in Akbarnama, 1590-1595. The main aspect that catches our eyes is the colourful and costly costumes the people have put on. The costumes shown in these paintings represent the lifestyle prevalent in the period of Mughal Emperors and Rajput kings. Especially the female figures painted in Mughal Miniatures depict the characteristics of the Indian tradition of the time.

Their gold and silver ornaments are the mirror of the social position of the wealthy class of people who lived in that time. The costumes and the colours of their clothes witness the class to which they belonged. These ornaments like Necklaces, bracelets, and rings form part of the set. These add beauty to the men and women of medieval India, showing their choices and preferences. The people are shown in Mughal miniature paintings mainly came from the upper class and the princely families.

The paintings are done with the sponsorship of the Rajput Kings of Rajasthan and other regions of India. The art was greatly affected by this style of miniature paintings. These paintings depicted mainly various activities of the kings, their wives, and the court people.  

Empress Jodha Bai, Akbar's Wife

Costumes of Women: For the miniature artists, the Princes and princesses wearing gold ornaments and jewellery were like the mines of the subjects. Like their counterpart in Iran, the then Persia, the Indian miniature painters these subjects extensively. Associated almost exclusively with royalty, the luxury articles like jewellery were, too, were the subject for miniature artists, as it was an emblem of power and proof of wealth. Portrait of Emperor Akbar's Hindu wife Jodhaba. This painting is perhaps done after her death. In this painting, her name is shown as Mariam uz-Zamani. However, her original name was Jodhabai and she is known as Jodhabai in history. 

The paintings under the style of Mughal Miniatures are still being painted by the artists living in and around the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan. These modern works are looking like copies of the old classical masterpieces on one hand, and on another, they are loaded with modern techniques of perspective painting and use of the rich range of colours available now. These paintings are known as Rajasthan Paintings also. Coupled with such artistic elements, these paintings create outstanding artistic effects in the minds of art lovers.

A noble lady, Mughal dynasty, India. 17th century
A Noble Lady, Mughal Dynasty

Theme: Depiction of Costumes and ornaments of Medieval India: The period Mughal Dynasty was really the golden spell for the art of miniature paintings. The Emperors who helped the art of painting to flourish were Akbar (reigned 1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-27) and Shah Jahan (1628-58). India was a much wider region than it is today, and the Mughal Empire covered most of Northern India and some parts of the present Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Emperor Akbar was keenly taking interest in the issues like cultural and paintings. He was fond of assisting the artists in the field of music and painting. And for the augment of these arts, Emperor Akbar had employed more than one hundred painters who were expert in the art of miniature painting. These artists did mainly illustrate the texts like Akbarnama, the book that depicted the life of Emperor Akbar. They have also worked on illustrating the books of the Hindu religion, too, the scriptures like Ramayana and Mahabharat. 

We can say that the Mughal or miniature paintings were a variety of Islamic paintings done during the reign of the Mughal Emperors. These paintings are mainly done in India during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. In the second half of the sixteenth century, the Indian Mughal painters were taking some clues from the Western artists, too. 

In the time of Akbar’s reign, the Mughal Miniature painting was secular art, dealing with court life, durbar scenes and portraits of royal men and women. The miniature paintings had depicted the costumes and the ornaments, which were prevalent in the time of medieval India. Mughal emperor Akbar was a great patron of painting and under whose sponsorship painters had achieved great refinement. These artists had rendered exquisite detail of the Indian men and women and the costumes they wear. Here the three dancing ladies depict the exotic costumes used during the medieval period in India. One of these ladies is dressed in such a manner that we can say that she belongs to a royal family.

Mastani 28tt13
Baji Rao Mastani 
Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum

Mughal Miniature: Painting Beauty and Elegance of Indian Women : Theme: Mughal Miniature paintings depicting the beauty of women and their lifestyle in medieval India.

Mughal and Rajput Paintings make a major contribution to the study of north Indian painting. Indian Miniature Paintings of the sixteenth century, mainly from the courts of Mughal and Rajput Kings, were characterized by their typical form and look. These miniatures contained large areas of contrasting colours that the artists used quite symbolically.

Mastani popularly known as Bajirao Mastani (died 1740) was the mistress of Baji Rao Peshwa (Baji Rao I) (1699-1740), an Indian general and prime minister to the fourth Maratha Chhatrapati (Emperor) Shahuji. She is said to have been one of the most beautiful women in the history of India. Here the artist has painted unmatched beauty and the costumes of contemporary India she was wearing. The artists have done much labour in making the details of the miniature paintings picturesque. The colours used for depicting the transparency of the clothes are also indicating that the characters sitting in the scene belong to a highly rich family. The silk clothes were in vogue in that piece of time. However such costly clothes were limited to the wealthy people of the time.

The miniature artists of the Mughal era focused their attention on costumes and ornaments. They were much attentive to the intricacies of the designs of jewels and drapes, sometimes forgetting the factor of realism that they considered less important. Here in the above miniature the serene beauty of the Mughal characters, especially the sensuality of the lady are the prime, attractive aspect. Moreover, the rich designs and ornaments all have been given a splendid treatment by the artists. Look at the lady’s turban and the rich ornaments. Every item had been given a royal and detailed touch. 

A woman holding a Veena, Mughal, India. 18 century
A Woman  Holding a Veena
Colour and gold on paper

The Mughal era of miniature paintings owns a noteworthy page in the history of the art of paintings in India. The Mughals - descendants of Timur and Genghiz Khan with strong cultural ties to the Persian world - became the rules of north India in 1526 and became the most important artistically active Muslim dynasty on the subcontinent.

The miniature style of paintings practised during this period was clearly influenced by the Persian style of paintings. The Persian painters of the miniature style used upright format and general setting with an emphasis on flat aerial perspective. The Mughal era artists, especially in the time of King Akbar (1556-1605), maintained the qualities of the Persian style in their work. But they added their vision and took some freedom. They applied naturalism and tried the depiction of the detailed observation of the world in immediate surround.

These paintings represented the images on a flat plane that result in a strong two-dimensional design. In many paintings, separate scenes were painted in several sectors of the same work. But the proportions of these sectors risked making the whole painting to look unrealistic. But the main strength was their strong linear rhythm. It made the miniatures creating the effect of great energy. 

Some of the miniatures contain scenes wherein the prince, or a king, is sitting with his lover woman. She may be his wife or one of the wives, as the Mughal and Rajput Kings kept several wives. But the simple scene of two lovers sitting side by side illustrates much more than what we see at the first instance. The company is decorated by seemingly the atmosphere conducive to love: Good arrangement of food and wine accompanied by two young women musicians. [All the images are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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