Between 1707 and 1857, Delhi was a hotbed of political intrigue and power struggles the Mughal Empire was in decline and the British East India Company was emerging as a formidable power. In 1857, these tensions culminated in the great uprising that led to the end of Mughal dominion and the beginning of the British Raj. But this turbulent epoch also witnessed a burst of artistic innovation and experimentation. Delhi's artist were increasingly employed by Company officials as well as the Mughal and regional courts, and thus became adept at improvising with a variety of techniques. Creating innovative miniatures while continually experimenting with new European styles. Art historians are only now coming to recognize the richness and ingenuity of the work created in this period. With insightful essays by distinguished scholars. Princes & Painters is a stunning visual document of eighteenth and nineteenth century Delhi.
For more than a millennium and in myriad guises, Delhi has been a cultural center of North India. Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707 – 1857 is the first exhibition in the West to explore this important city and its art, artists, and patrons during one of the most significant periods of change in India's History.
This project grew out of an informal discussion that willam Dalrymple and I had in the early fall of 2007. Out of these conversations emerged the idea of princes and painters, focusing on the vibrant cultural life of Delhi and North India. Willam had just published his books on the last mughal emperors and on the early presence of the British in India. We recognized that while there have been exhibitions of early Mughal art and some exhibitions of art from the British colonial period known as the Company school, many of them at Asia Society itself, scant attention has been paid to the relationship between late Mughal works and early company paintings. I am glad that Yuthika Sharma has joined will in curating and providing the intellectual framework for the exhibition.
We are very grateful to the many individuals and organizations that have provided critical support for this project, and they are acknowledged in the following pages. I would like to offer our gratitude to officials of the government of India for their support of this exhibition and catalogue. We would like to offer special thanks to Jawhar Sircar, secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, and Gautam Sengupta, director general, Archaeological Survey of India. Today, Delhi continues to be a vibrant city, easily combining its Muslim heritage through great monuments with its British legacy as seen in the Lutyens-designed city of New Delhi. It is our Hope that this exhibition, together with the catalogue and the vibrant programs that accompany it, will fill a gap in our knowledge of this city and provide a deeper understanding of Delhi's rich cultural and artistic heritage.
Over a 150 year, period, the city of Delhi was locus of a dramatic shift of power from the Mughal Empire to the British Raj. It is our Great pleasure to Bring Together for the First time artworks produced during this crucial period. This art has received little scholarly attention from art historians, and yet this transitional period significantly altered Indian culture, Politics and art, and Provided unprecedented impetus to artistic innovation and experimentation. The works selected for this exhibition jewel like portraits, striking panoramas, and exquisite decorative arts crafted for Mughal emperors and European residents alike – illustrate the artistic flowering that resulted from the complex social and political interactions of the time.
For this project we were able to bring together two specialist curators, noted historian Willam Dalrymple and art historian Yuthika Sharma, a scholar of late Mughal painting. The two scholars first met in the summer of 2008 and found their areas of expertise to be complementary. I thank them for their enthusiasm and dedication, and for helping us bring to light this new understanding of Delhi, its patrons, and its artists during an important transitional period. We are also grateful to Kathy and Malcolm Fraser, Charles Greig, Cynthia Polsky, Dr. And Mrs. K. Robbins, Edith Welch, Jude Ahern, Brendan Lynch, and Francesca Galloway. Thanks to the authors Jean-Marie Lafont, J. P. Losty, Malini Roy, and Sunil Sharma for their insights into the arts and history of Delhi. I would also like to thank our colleagues at Yale University Press, including Patricia Fidler, Kate Zanzucchi, and Sarah Henry, and also Miranda Ottewell, June Cuffner, and Carol Roberts. Thanks to Miko McGinty, Rita Jules, and Anjali Pala for the book design.
We offer our thanks to numerous individuals at public and private institutions and collections for lending to the exhibition. These include the staff at Archives Departementales du Finistere, Quimper; James Cuno, president, and Eloise W. Martin, director, the Art Institute of Chicago; Jay Xu, director, and Forrest McGill, curator of South and Southeast Asian art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Richard Ovenden, keeper of special collections and associate director, Bodleian library, Oxford University; Dame Lynne Brindley, chief executive, the British library; Neil McGregor, director, the British Museum; Aaron Betsky, director, Cincinnati Art Museum; David Franklin, director, and Griffith Mann, chief curator, at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Kjeld von Folsach, museum director, the David Collection; Julian Raby, director, Freer Gallery of Artj Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; David Bomford, acting director, the J. Paul Getty Museum; James Billington, librarian of Congress, library of Congress; Dennis A. Fieri, president, Massachusetts Historical Society; Sheila R. Canby, Patti Cadby Birch, Curator in Charge of the Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art; John Guy, curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Jacques Gies, president, Musee Guimet; Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Mrs. J. Murray, director, National Army Museum, London; Dan L. Munroe, director, Peabody Essex Museum; Charles Hind, associate director, and H. J. Heinz, curator of drawings, Royal Institute of British Architects; William Thorsell, director, Royal Ontario Museum; Roxana Velasquez Martfnez del Campo, executive director, San Diego Museum of Art; Sir Mark Jones, director, the Victoria and Albert Museum; and Gary Vikan, director, the Waiters Art Museum.
We would like to recognize the generous support of the Partridge Foundation and our friends John and Polly Guth, as well as that of E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
In the museum, I would like to thank Marion Kocot, director of museum operations, for managing the project, including this publication, and Dr. Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Curator of Traditional Asian Art, who has coordinated this exhibition and provided curatorial insight. Clare McGowan, collections manager and senior registrar, with the assistance of Marion Kahan oversaw complex registrarial challenges inherent in exhibitions of this scale. Clayton Vogel, exhibition designer, and Davis Thompson-Moss, museum installation manager, have created a wonderful space for the presentation of the artworks. Thanks also to Nancy Blume, head of museum education programs, for docent training and educational programs; Donna Saunders, executive assistant, for her coordination and assistance; and our interns, Roshni Bhambhwani, Saori Kashio, Rebecca Kasmin, and Aditi Tolia. Thanks to Martha McGi11 for her work on this book. Others at Asia Society who should be thanked for their continued support include Dr. Vishakha N. Desai, who initiated the exhibition following a conversation with William Dalrymple; Jamie Metzl, executive vice president; Shayne Doty, vice president, external affairs, and his team-Kim Woodward, Karen Stone Talwar, Alice Hunsberger, and Andrea Petrini-for their fund-raising efforts; Michael Roberts, executive director, New York Public Programs, and Rachel Cooper, director, Cultural Programs and Performing Arts, for their work on New York programs; Geoffrey Spencer, executive director of communications and marketing, Elaine Merguerian, and Noopur Agarwal for their work on publicity and marketing; and Bill Swersey, executive director, Asia Society Online, and his team for the exhibition website.
The seat of The Kingdom
The City of Shahjahanabad, now Old Delhi was established by the fifth of the Great Mughals, Shahjahan, in 1648.
After more than nine years and two months of work, the new capital was finally inaugurated with great fanfare on the day set by the emperor's astrologers. As with more recent Delhi rated with great fanfare on the day set by the emperor's astrologers. As with more recent Delhi construction projects, there were anxieties about whether the buildings, "designed in accordance with his own noble taste for architecture, would be ready on schedule: on December 31, 1647, shahjahan had strongly urged" the governor of Delhi "to complete the whole of the works by the period of his next visit there, which would about four months hence.
The strong urging seems to have done the trick. At the precise moment on April 18 deemed most propitious by the astrologers, shahjahan landed at the Khwajah Khizr ghat of the river Yamuna, just below the water gate of the Red Fort, and made "his ceremonious entry into the splendid palaces of the fort. After inspecting the various buildings and edifices, he took his seat at the jewelled throne in the hall of Public Audience, where he held a public levee, whilst the loud beating of the royal drums made the glad sounds of rejoicing peal through the universe.
Within a few years Delhi grew to be the largest city in South Asia. Shahjahan had been forty-seven when he decided to move his court from Agra to Delhi. As a major center of spiritual, cultural, and political significance, with its Sufi heritage and ancestral tombs, Delhi held a special significance for shahjahan. Building Shajahanabad was a vastly expensive project and the imperial family joined the emperor in lavishing their patronage on the new city. Half the most important monuments in the new capital were commissioned by the imperial women, especially the emperor's favourite daughter, Jahanara, who constructed several manisions, a bathhouse, and the palatial caravanserai with its gardens and lakes, which adorned its center. She also laid out the principal avenue, the Chandni Chowk.
In Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), the great bustling Mughal cities are revealed to Adam after the fall as future wonders of God's creation. To a man of Milton's generation, this was no understatement. At this point, the Mughals ruled over some hundred million subjects five times the number ruled by their Ottoman rivals, and many times that ruled by their westerly neighbours, the Safavids of Isfahan. From the ramparts of the Red Fort, Shajahan ruled over most of India, all of what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh and much of Afghanistan. For their contemporaries in the west, the Mughals became symbols of luxury and might – attributes still linked with the word mogul. The resources of the entire empire were poured into the construction of the great city, and the result was extraordinary: the words of the Persian poet Amir Khsraw were inscribed in the Red Fort's Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), proudly proclaiming, "if there be a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!
The glamour of the new city did not, however survive the transition to power of the emperor's least favourite son, Aurangzeb. In 1657 Aurangzeb imprisoned his father and arranged for the deaths of his own brothers, and then chose to be crowned as Emperor Alamgir I in his father's Shalimar Gardens at Delhi. As a figure at the crux of a long-standing historical bias that has attributed the moral decline of the Mughal Empire to his puritanical policies, Aurangzeb appears as a complex, ruthless, and rather Shakespearian figure – one who revived the power of the Muslim ulema, reimposed the jizya tax on Hindus that had been abolished by Akbar (reigned 1556-1605), and ordered the execution to Teg Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs. Recent scholarship has partially redressed the image of the sixth great Mughal as a narrow minded bigot who banned wine drinking hashish smoking, dancing girls, and the playing of music. Instead, scholars have shown that the emperor was a pragmatic ruler who frequently patronized Hindu institutions; his reign is now understood be less orthodox, tyrannical, and centralized than previously thought. In this context, the repression of history painting, the nature of late Mughal imperial darbar scenes and the disbanding of the imperial atelier under A rangzeb are some of the broader themes under consideration by art historians.
Decline of Power
The death of Aurangezeb in 1707 was a watershed moment in the history of the later Mughals it greatly altered the Political fortunes of the Mughal Empire, propelling it into a crisis. During the Years between Aurangzeb's death and the coronation of the seventeen year old emperor Muhammad Shah in 1719, Delhi was a hotbed of political intrigue and power struggles. The role of emperor during this period was a highly dangerous one. Aurangzed's son Shah Alam emerged victorious in a battle for succession and assumed the mantle as Bahadur Shah son Jahandar Shah for a mere eleven months, from march 1712, to February 1713. This period saw the office of the wazir and the mir bakshi acquire supreme powers, to the extent that the emperor's prestige was undermined and awe for him vanished from the hearts of the people." This was also the age of the powerful Sayyid Barha brothers, Abdullah Khan and Husain Ali, two noblemen whose families had been associated with the Mughal court for over three generations. The gradual dilution of Mughal authority between 1707 and 1719 was paralleled by the rise to power of these brothers, who wieded enormous political clout (cat. No. 5). As Farrukhsiyar, who ousted jahandar Shah in 1713, realized only to late, a strategic alliance with the Sayyid brothers had grave consequences. Perceiving Farrukhsiyar as a threat, after less than six years Husain Ali brought his reign to a gruesome end the emperor was imprisoned and starved, and later blinded and strangled. The political and socioeconomic changes that decentralized Mughal authority also strengthened the influence of the governors of the Mughal provinces. The gradual haemorrhaging of the imperial treasury exacerbated this imbalance of power.
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