Emperor Akbar with a Courtier
This arresting portrait of Akbar in old age is probably circa of 1600-1605 date (i.e. late in his own life), rather than a posthumous portrait from Jahangir's reign. The style seems close to other single-figure portraits of the earlier period such as one of Zayn Khan Koka of circa 1590 date in the Victoria & Albert Museum (see Susan Stronge, Painting for the Mughal Emperor. The Art of the Book 1560-1650, London, 2002, pl. 68), or one of Raisal Darbari of circa1600-1605 in the Chester Beatty Library (see Linda Leach, Mughal and Other Indian Paintings From the Chester Beatty Library, London, 1995, vol.1, col.pl.43) as well as portraits of Akbar himself such as two by Manohar of circa 1602-04 date showing Akbar with Murtaza Khan (Cincinnati Art Museum, see Stuart Cary Welch, India: Art and Culture, 1300-1900, New York, 1985, no.113; T. McInerney, "Manohar" in P. Pal (ed.), Master Artists of the Imperial Moghul Courts, Bombay, 1991, no.9; Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, see ibid., no.10). The courtier had previously been identified as Hakim Ali Gilani (Welch 1985) and Mirza Aziz Koka (McInerney 1991), but Leach has the most recent and firmest identification (Leach 1995, vol.I, p.333). In contrast, later portraits of Akbar executed during Jahangir's reign often show him apotheosised with halo and/or angels, or at least depicted with greater grandeur (see two in the Kevorkian Album, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Stuart Cary Welch et al, The Emperor's Album, New York, 1987, nos.9 and 11).
It is worth looking more closely at the two Cincinnati and Dublin pictures by Manohar in comparison to the present portrait. Although Akbar is shown seated on a platform in the Manohar scenes rather than standing as here, he is shown in old age, bending towards a courtier, and depicted in three-quarter profile, as here, and in the Dublin picture he is even holding up his right hand in a similar gesture to the present example. If anything, he appears even older in the present portrait. However, this might be accounted for by the more detailed draughtsmanship and characterization in the present work (which is extremely fine) in comparison to the two Manohar works, which are group portraits with figures painted on a smaller relative scale, and which employ more even brushstrokes and greater facial and corporeal stylization.
The superb detail and characterization of the faces of Akbar and his companion in the present work are worth noting - Akbar's face almost sags with the weariness of old age, his eyes droop with age, making the viewer feel tired in sympathy, while the courtier's eyes and mature but strong face indicate a man of keen intelligence. This painterly skill indicates an artist of considerable talent, and the composition similarities between the figures here and those of Akbar and Murtaza Khan in the two works by Manohar mentioned above suggest a possible link between the present work and this artist. The pose of the courtier in the present work is extremely close to that of Murtaza Khan in the Cincinnati picture, as are the style and shape of his garments. The pose of the upper half of Akbar's figure in the present work is extremely close to Akbar's in the Dublin picture, including the raised right hand (almost a gesture of blessing) and the katar held in the waistband sash.
Manohar was famed for his psychological insights. McInerney writes the following: "Manohar's psychological insights and narrative abilities were better utilized in a new type of portrait that he introduced. These paintings show two people in actual situations, the personalities gaining depth and complexity from their interrelation" (T. McInerney, "Manohar", in P. Pal (ed.), Master Artists of the Imperial Mughal Court, Bombay, 1991, p.59). In many ways this is exactly what we see here. Despite the rather traditional pale green background that was so popular during this period of Mughal portraiture, the depiction of the two figures in three-quarter profile, their gestures and eye contact clearly indicating communication, and the detailed delineation of their faces providing character, gives a psychological as well as corporeal depth to the portrait. Furthermore, Manohar was a devoted and loyal follower of Akbar, an artist who was close to his royal patron and remained at Akbar's court when Prince Salim (Jahangir) took several artists with him in to exile in 1600. Leach comments that "Manohar, the familiar retainer, seems to have been among the few permitted to show the monarch as he truly appeared from about 1600 to his death in 1605". (Linda Leach, Mughal and Other Indian Paintings From the Chester Beatty Library, London, 1995, vol.1, p.333).
The face of the courtier in the present work bears a strong resemblance to that of a figure in the lower left corner of Jahangir Receiving Prince Parviz in a Garden, also by Manohar and painted around 1610 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IM 9.1925, see Susan Stronge, Painting for the Mughal Emperor. The Art of the Book 1560-1650, London, 2002, pl.87). See also http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O18905/painting-jahangir-receiving-prince-parviz-in and it may be that they are the same person.
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