Lot 3
  • 3

A lady with the young Tobias in a landscape, attributable to Keshav Das, circa 1575-80

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
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  • gouache and drawing on paper
gouache heightened with gold on cotton, mounted on paper, laid down on album page with inner borders with scrolling gold vines and wide outer margins flecked with gold, reverse with a Persian quatrain in nasta’liq script by Sayyid Shah Mir (17th century), dated under blue wash: 'sana julus ahad' ['of regnal year one']


Edwin Binney 3rd, San Diego (1925-86)
J. Robert Alderman and Dr. Mark Zebrowski (1945-99), London
Acquired in 1977


Persian and Indian Miniatures from the collection of Edwin Binney 3rd, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 1962
Persian and Indian Miniatures, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, Canada, 1968
Indian Miniature Painting, The Mughal and Deccani Schools, from the collection of Edwin Binney 3rd, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 1973-74


Portland 1962, p.34, no.59
Portland 1973-74, p.54, no.29b
Okada 1988, p.8, fig.5
Leach 1995, vol.1, p.143, under no.1.239, footnote 3


In good overall condition, colours vivid and gold bright, a few stains and wormholes to album page edges, 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 early work by Keshav Das (also known as Kesu Das), one of the leading painters of Emperor Akbar's royal atelier, already shows the strong influence of European engravings, which began to appear with the arrival of Portuguese Christians and Jesuit missionaries at the Mughal court, the first of whom Akbar had met when he was besieging Surat in 1573 (Akbarnama, translated by Beveridge, 1897-1921 (reprint 1989), vol.III, p.37). These Biblical themes occur repeatedly in compositions throughout the artist's career.

This example, like lots 10 and 19 in this catalogue, depicts a variation on the Biblical story of Tobias and the Angel, which was a popular theme in early Mughal art. As well as the superb quality of the painting, it is remarkable for the fact that it is painted on cotton. Outside the monumental Hamzanama series, of which there were originally approximately 1,400 paintings, Mughal paintings on cotton or fine cloth from the Akbar period are extremely rare, only a handful of others being published - Two Rosy Pastors in the Berlin section of the Gulshan Album, A Family of Cheetahs in the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection), a Chukar Partridge in the Keir Collection, another Chukar Partridge in the Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C., and a Flowering Pomegranate Tree in a private collection, all dating to circa 1570-75 (see Brand and Lowry 1985, nos.43, 45, 46; Beach 1987, figs.13, 14, 17; Lowry and Beach 1988, pp.334-5, no.405).

The present work is a combination of European iconography gleaned from prints and Bible illustrations, and like the other versions of this scene in this catalogue, shows elements from different western and eastern sources. 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 gallbladder for warding off evil spirits and cooks the rest of the fish. Here we have an adult figure seated on a rock with a child who holds a fish, which generally fits with the Biblical story, but there are elements that do not correspond to the Biblical story, such as the boy's nakedness and the fact that the main figure is female and has no angel's wings. These indicate that the artist was combining iconography from different European images. Among the likely contenders are prints of the Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, in which the seated figure of the Madonna is accompanied at her feet by two small boys - the Christ child (absent here) and St. John the Baptist, who is often depicted nude except for a loincloth of animal skin (pertinent here). The rich and voluminous drapery of the main figure here also relates to images of the Virgin or other Biblical or Classical figures (many of the Northern European printmakers of the sixteenth century produced series such as Women of the Old Testament, the Five Senses, the Seven Liberal Arts and Christian Virtues in which female figures dressed in classical garments are seated on rock plinths in landscapes settings). Another element borrowed from European prints is the distant townscape, which became an almost ubiquitous feature of Akbar-period painting. 

Keshav Das, rated by Abu'l Fazl in his A'in-i Akbari fifth among the seventeen artists in the imperial atelier listed as having "attained fame", had a long career beginning around 1570 and continuing until circa 1604. For the great majority of this time he was employed in the royal atelier of Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605), but he is thought to have joined the rebellious Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) at his court at Allahabad between 1599 and 1604. He worked on several of the major manuscripts of the Akbar period, including the British Library Darabnama, the Jaipur Razmnama, the Bankipore Timurnama and the Victoria and Albert Museum Akbarnama, but he is perhaps best known for his works based on European engravings, of which the present painting is an exceptional example. He seems to have enjoyed the artistic and iconographic novelty provided by these European images, and excelled in producing vibrant, richly-coloured and detailed versions which nevertheless retained a strong sense of their Mughal character. The artist’s early mastery of landscape painting is clearly visible in this miniature (the rocky outcrop is a very Perso-Mughal element, a similar example being found in the several paintings of the 1570s, including the aforementioned Two Rosy Pastors in Berlin and illustrations in the SOAS Anwar-i Suhaili), while a close comparison for the trees and sky can be found in a painting of the Last Supper attributed to Keshav Das in the Musée Guimet (see Okada 2011, fig.12, p.164). His liking for flamboyant drapery is also evident here, and can be seen on a number of his other published works. For thorough discussions of Keshav Das, his style and career, see Okada 1998 and Okada 2011. See also Leach 1995, Vol.2, pp.1106-7.

As well as the two other versions of Tobias and the Angel in the present sale (lots 10 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.