Lot 10
  • 10

Tobias and a seated angel, attributable to Manohar, Mughal, circa 1590

30,000 - 40,000 GBP
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  • Gouache and ink on paper
gouache heightened with gold on paper, laid down on an album page with green outer margin filled with chinoiserie-style foliate scrolls, inscribed on mount above miniature with the title in nasta’liq script; and above and below miniature, with verses in Persian


Anonymous collection, Paris, formed in the 1940s
Christie's, South Kensington, 20 October 1994, lot 317


In good overall condition, colours vivid and gold bright, minor loss to album page bottom right corner, slight fading to green outer margins, as viewed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This painting, attributable to the early Mughal artist Manohar, depicts a variation on the story of the Biblical story of Tobias and the Angel. The theme of Tobias and the Angel seems to have held a particular fascination for some of the early Mughal artists, appearing in three of the subjects in the present catalogue alone (see also lots 3 and 19). But like so many early Mughal works that incorporated Biblical and Classical imagery, the details here have been altered, either intentionally or due to a misunderstanding of the original context. In this case the changes are so profound and distinctive as to possibly indicate an intention on the part of the artist. In the Biblical story (Book of Tobit, chapters 5-6), the young Tobias, son of Tobit, is sent by his father from Nineveh to the Median city of Rages (modern Rayy) to collect a debt. The angel Raphael, disguised in human form, offers to accompany Tobias, an offer readily accepted by both father and son. They set out, and on reaching the river Tigris, Tobias goes to the water's edge to wash, where he is confronted by a huge fish. The angel advises him to catch the fish by the gills and bring it ashore, which Tobias does. On the angel's advice he then guts the fish, preserves the heart, liver and gall bladder for warding off evil spirits and cooks the rest of the fish.

The present work is a combination of European iconography gleaned from prints and Biblical illustrations circulating in India in the late sixteenth century, as well as Indian and Persian elements, and there are several features worth examining in order to understand the composition. 

The European iconographic sources for this work are not only the Biblical story itself, but also images such as Venus with Cupid at her feet, of which numerous were produced in the Italian and Northern Renaissance traditions that might have reached India. In addition, there are two Persian literary sources that may have informed the present composition, one is a scene in the Kalila wa Dimnah (Fables of Bidpai, Anwar-i Suhaili) in which a fisherman offers a hermaphrodite fish to a seated king (for example, a Persian example of 1593 in a manuscript in the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, see Sims 1991, p.115, fig.121), the other is a scene in the Shahnama of Firdausi in which Kai Ka'us rises in his flying machine, and an angel holding a fish is occasionally included (Titley 1977, mss. 105/15, 115/8). The winged figure sitting on a rock is found in several European versions of Tobias and Angel (e.g. a sixteenth-century one by Savoldo) and of Venus and Cupid, but the rock itself is a compositional trope often used in early Mughal painting as a platform for positioning the main figures in scenes such as those of a prince visiting a holy man in the wilderness. Several European prints exist that show the figure of Venus with wings (e.g. those of Hopfer and Beham, both early sixteenth century). The form and colouring of the wings are essentially Persian, although their four-fold nature appears more often in early Mughal work (see Leach 1995, vol.1, p.144, no.1.239). The fact that the main figure is female, not male (as the Angel Raphael is in the Bible story) and the figure's essential nakedness are probably derived from an image of Venus, who often sits naked or near-naked on a rock in European depictions. The younger figure's small wings are derived from an image of Cupid or a putti/cherubim. The small figure's essential nakedness is also related to an image of Cupid than Tobias. The feathered covering of the bodies of both figures probably also derives from European imagery, in which angels were occasionally depicted wearing suits of feathers (thought possibly to derive from costumes worn by late-medieval actors in religious dramas), and the penitent Mary Magdalen was sometimes shown wearing a feather-like suit of hair in German works of the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries. Pertinently she is often shown in these images with her breasts slightly protruding through the feather/hair covering, as seen here. (Another work attributed to Manohar, a scene of the Nativity, also features angels with feathered bodies, see Okada 1989, pp.196-7, no.56, as does one attributed to Keshav Das, see Sotheby's, London, Indian Miniatures the Property of the British Rail Pension Fund, 26 April 1994, lot 2). The bunch of grapes held in the larger figure's hands is not from the Bible story, and may originate from a further classical or Biblical image, such as Collaert's figure of Europa, who sits in a landscape and holds a bunch of grapes in her left hand. The leaf skirt worn by the main figure relates to depictions of those worn by the Bhil tribal people in India. Finally, the three trees on the horizon may derive from European engravings, where such features were often symbolic of the three crosses on Golgotha when Christ was crucified.

The painting is thus a kaleidoscopic mixture of European, Indian and Persian influences that sums up the rich artistic context of late-sixteenth-century Mughal art and links to the particular tastes of Manohar, the probable artist, who, like his father Basawan (see this catalogue, lots 6 and 9) was much influenced by the arrival of European engravings at the Mughal court towards the end of the sixteenth century. For a discussion of the theme of 'Tobias and the Angel' in Mughal painting, see Okada 1988, pp.5-12. (The inscription in the border above identifies the scene as "picture of a fairy and a child with a fish in hand", which does not add to our understanding of the scene).

Manohar was one of the leading artists of the ateliers of Akbar and Jahangir. Glenn Lowry describes him as "subtle and extremely gifted" (Beach 1978, p.130). Born in the 1560s, he was the son of the great master Basawan (see lot 6) and inherited not only his father's talent, but also some of his stylistic traits, which were further honed by working alongside his father in his early years. His career spanned approximately four decades and he was a prolific painter. Verma lists 114 surviving signed or attributed works in his biographical account (Verma 1994, pp.248-259). The earliest dated work by him is a self-portrait in a manuscript of the Gulistan of Sa'di (Royal Asiatic Society, see Okada 1992, pp.138-9), when he must still have been a teenager. Manohar joined his father in the court atelier of the Emperor Akbar in the 1580s and it was at this time that he and his father produced their versions after European prints. Lowry points out that, whereas Basawan was interested in volume, recession and roundness of form, his son Manohar was more concerned with line and surface pattern (Beach 1978, p.131). This observation is borne out by the present work. For further discussion of the artist see Lowry in Beach 1978, pp.130-7; McInerney in Pal et al. 1991, pp.53-68; Okada 1992, pp.136-147; Seyller in Beach, Fischer and Goswamy 2011, vol.I, pp.135-152.

As well as the two other versions of Tobias and the Angel in the present sale (lots 3 and 19) related scenes can be found as follows: Okada 1989, pp.208-211, nos.64-65; Okada 1992, p.102, no.109; Leach 1995, vol.I, pp.143-4, no.1.239; Seyller 2000-I, pp.98-99, no.XXVII, col. fig.32 & p.134, col. fig.69 (in both these last illustrations, the fairies wear garments covered with tiny feathers).