AN ILLUSTRATED FOLIO FROM THE GARSHASPNAMEH: NARIMAN LASSOES THE KHAQAN OF CHIN IN BATTLE ASCRIBED TO BISHANDAS
- AN ILLUSTRATED FOLIO FROM THE GARSHASPNAMEH: NARIMAN LASSOES THE KHAQAN OF CHIN IN BATTLE
ASCRIBED TO BISHANDAS
- Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
The artist Bishandas (active 1590 -1640) was highly regarded by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and was one of only five painters mentioned in the Emperor's memoirs the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri or Jahangirnama as unequalled in drawing portraits. He was the only Mughal artist who travelled to a foreign country (Persia) sent there by the Emperor to record likenesses of Shah Abbas' royal family. The present illustration - a folio from the Garshaspnameh of Asadi Tusi - almost certainly created for Emperor Jahangir - is a rare and important painting by a member of the Imperial atelier.
A well-known painting attributed to Bishandas ca. 1618 (after the artist's return from Persia) depicts an imaginary meeting of Emperor Jahangir and Shah Abbas of Persia with both rulers seated on a lavish throne, in the Freer Gallery of Art (accession no. F1942.16a). Perhaps Bishandas' most celebrated attributed work is "Scene of a Royal Birth" from the Jahangirnama ca. 1620, in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (accession no. 14.657) likely marking the birth of Salim - the future Emperor Jahangir. The present painting was created in an earlier phase of Bishandas' career, before his trip to Persia, in the Imperial workshops producing superb illustrations for the Baburnameh, Shahnameh and the present Garshaspnameh.
The use of marbled paper in the borders of the present page is notable. At least two other pages from this manuscript have marbled borders, but the present one is unusual given that that gold birds are perched on and behind the marbled motifs - as if they themselves are the leaves and branches of a tree or bush. In other examples the foliage is drawn on top of the marbling.
On the verso: four columns of very fine black ink and gold Nasta'liq script between gold ruled lines with lapis panels. Gold scrolling foliate designs in the lapis inner borders. Animal, bird and floral illustrations in gold in the natural-buff outer borders in a style very similar to Farhang-i Jahangiri lexicon leaves.
In addition to the present page only five other illustrated Garshaspnameh pages are known: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (accession no. M.78.9.5), Cleveland Museum of Art (accession no. 45.171), David Collection (inv.17/ 2004) and two others from Colnaghi (1976). In addition there are seven complete text folios in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin (accession no.11A.34).
For discussion on the artist Bishandas and other examples of his work see A. K. Das in M. C. Beach, E. Fischer and B. N. Goswamy, Masters of Indian Painting 1100-1650, vol. I, Artibus Asiae Sup 48 I/II, 2011, pp. 259-278; A. Okada, Indian Miniatures of the Mughal Court, New York, 1992, pp.154-163; A. Das in A. Das (ed.), Mughal Masters, Further Studies, Marg Vol.49, No.4, Mumbai, June 1998, pp.112-133; Linda York Leach, Indian Miniature Paintings and Drawings, Cleveland, 1986, no. 21; P. Pal, Indian Painting, Los Angeles, 1993, no.68; J. Strzygowski, Asiatische Miniaturenmalerie in Anschluss an Wesen und Werden der Mogulmalerei, Klagenfurt, 1933, taf. 84; and Sotheby's London, December 7, 1971, Lot 188A and April 28, 2004, Lot 57.
Of further note: the majority of the pages listed above have been described as coming from a copy of the Shahnameh but the present page and the example in the David Collection both depict scenes from the Garshaspnameh of Ali bin Ahmad Asadi Tusi (d.1072), which though closely related to the Shahnameh of Firdausi is a separate text. However the illuminated opening double page of text sold at Sotheby’s London, April 25 2012, lot 484, is undoubtedly from the Shahnameh, being the opening of the preface to the Baysunghuri edition. Thus it seems likely that the illustrated manuscript prepared for Jahangir included the texts of both the Shahnameh and the Garshaspnameh. Most of the illustrated pages bear contemporary inscriptions in the borders identifying the artists: our present page is ascribed to Bishandas. One is ascribed to Bishandas and Inayat (LACMA), one to Dhanraj (Cleveland Museum), one to Govardhan (David Collection), one to Balchand (Colnaghi, no.88ii), and one is attributed to Aqa Reza (Colnaghi, no.88i). The opening double page of illumination was attributed to Mansur. All of these are royal artists who were active in Jahangir’s atelier thus strongly indicating the emperor’s patronage of the manuscript. Jahangir’s patronage is further indicated by the close similarities between the border designs of this Shahnameh/Garshaspnameh and those of the well-known manuscript of the Farhang-i Jahangiri - the Persian dictionary which was prepared for Jahangir circa 1608. However there are distinctive differences both in the quality of the border painting (the borders of the Shahnameh/Garshaspnameh manuscript are somewhat finer) and in the subject matter (the Farhang-i Jahangiri has human figures in the borders while this Garshaspnameh has only animals, birds and vegetation). Also is the obvious fact that one text is a dictionary and the other is a Shahnameh/ Garshaspnameh.
With many thanks to Marcus Fraser for his important contributions to this entry.