Old Master Minute

A Western Gentleman through the Eyes of a Mughal Painter

By Sotheby's

This manuscript painting of A Kneeling Youth (1635), by an artist working in the style of Reza-I ‘Abbasi, is one of our favourite lots in the upcoming Arts of the Islamic World & India sale at Sotheby’s London.

It is of great interest not simply due to its great beauty but also because of its subject: a young, western man. The seventeenth century was a period of great cultural exchange and relative tolerance between European traders and their Mughal hosts; this young man, likely a Portuguese merchant, is depicted drinking, something strictly forbidden in Islamic law. Yet, this type of depiction was not unique; the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC has in its collection the manuscript page Jahangir preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings by Bichitr (c.1615-18). Perhaps surprisingly, one of the kings in this painting is instantly recognisable as James I.

The Old Master Paintings Department frequently offers western portraits from this period. That said, the present lot provides us with a wonderful counterpoint to more familiar depictions by European painters. A Kneeling Youth is viewed through the prism of Mughal visual conventions; the portrait’s setting is not governed by European rules of perspective, rather it is marked by a floral and arboreal pattern that yields to a figure and dress immediately recognisable as western. It is cultural cross-pollination made manifest on a single page.

The artwork will be offered on 26th October 2022 with an estimate of £20,000 - £25,000.

Old Master Minute