Lot 5
  • 5

A prince visiting a dervish in the wilderness, identified as the King of Yemen visiting Shaykh Sanan, attributable to 'Abd al-Samad and Nar Singh, Mughal, circa 1585-90

50,000 - 60,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • brush and ink heightened with gouache and gold on paper
brush and ink heightened with gouache and gold on paper, laid down on an album page with inner borders of polychrome flowers and outer margins decorated with animals and vegetation in gold, page number '98' in nast'aliq script on recto of album page, unrelated names inscribed on verso in nast'aliq and devanagari scripts: to the right, 'Padishah Yaman' and 'Pati sah yaman ka'; to the left, 'Hazrat Shaykh Sanan' and 'Hajroti Sekh sunan ka'


Sotheby's, London, 19 October 1994, lot 147


In generally good overall condition, small loss to surface at top right corner, stain to upper left corner, light crease to centre of composition, minor losses to leaf 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 exquisite drawing, in which two hands are discernible, represents the classic scene of a prince visiting a hermit in the wilderness, one of the most popular themes in Mughal art whose relevance was embedded in Mughal cultural consciousness through the continuous respectful relations between emperors and Sufi sheikhs, mostly of the Chishti Order but also the Qadiri Order and others, from early in the reign of Akbar onwards, particularly up to the end of Shah Jahan's reign and the death of Dara Shikoh. However, the present work has inscriptions on the reverse that name the two main figures as the King of Yemen and Shaykh Sanan. These inscriptions therefore suggest that it is a scene from the well-known story of Shaykh Sanan and the Christian Maiden, from Attar's Mantiq-i Tayr. However, Attar's version does not include such an episode, thus the inscriptions on the reverse are probably later mis-identifications or over-interpretations. 

In the present drawing the main scene of the prince and the hermit and the surrounding rocks, as well as the upper landscape, can be attributed to 'Abd al-Samad, while the more robustly coloured group of figures and landscape at lower left is close to the style of Nar Singh.

The small, neat and delicately drawn figures of the princes and hermit are typical of 'Abd al-Samad's style during his career in India, as are the rocks. Two other scenes by 'Abd al-Samad of princes and hermits, both in the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, compare closely with the present work (see Canby in Das et al. 1998, pp.24-5, 27, figs.8, 9, 11; Canby 1998, pp.110-113, nos.80 and 81). Although the two works in Toronto are larger and have more elaborate surrounding compositions, the main elements of the prince and hermit sitting on rock platforms in mountainous country are very close.

'Abd al-Samad, together with his fellow painter Mir Sayyid 'Ali, first met the Mughal Emperor Humayun (r.1530-40 and 1555-56) when he visited Persia in 1544. These artists then followed Humayun to Kabul and on to India, where the Emperor awarded the young 'Abd al-Samad the title of Shirin Qalam ('Sweet Pen') in acknowledgment of his outstanding talents. The artist, a native of Shiraz, spent his formative years working in the court atelier of Shah Tahmasp at Tabriz, where he came into contact with the leading Safavid masters of the time and worked with them on the great Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp. This Persian style was to remain characteristic of his art throughout a long and influential career at the Mughal court and thus formed a major part for the basis of the early Mughal style of painting. 'Abd al-Samad became director of the Mughal court atelier and numbered both Daswanth and Basawan, together with artists such as Nar Singh, among his many remarkable pupils. It would be natural that a drawing such as this would include elements by both master and pupil.

'Abd al-Samad appears as second to Mir Sayyid 'Ali "among the forerunners on the highroad of art" mentioned by Abu'l Fazl in his A'in-i Akbari : "2. Khwaja 'Abd as-Samad, styled Shirinqalam, or sweet pen. He comes from Shiraz. Though he had learnt the art before he was made a grandee of the Court, his perfection was mainly due to the wonderful effect of a look of his Majesty, which caused him to turn from that which is form to that which is spirit. From the instruction they received, the Khwaja's pupils became masters" (translated by Blochmann 1873 (reprint 1989), vol.I, p.114).

For further discussion of 'Abd al-Samad’s career, see Beach 1981, pp.164-7; Okada 1992, pp.62-68; Canby in Das et al. 1998, pp.14-29; Canby 1998, pp. 113; Canby in Beach, Fischer and Goswamy 2011, pp.97-110.

For further information on Nar Singh, see Beach 1981, pp.95-96; Leach 1995, vol. I, pp. 287, 291-292, no. 2.152; Losty 1986-I, pp. 30-31, pl. IX; Smart and Walker 1985, p.19, no.3b, col.pl.; Seyller 2000-I, pp.48-49, no.II, pp.76-77, no.XVI.