Lot 9
  • 9

Demons prepare a potent brew in a rocky fortified landscape, attributable to Mahesa, Mughal, circa 1590, reverse with calligraphy by Sultan 'Ali al-Mashhadi, dated 897 AH/1491-92 AD

30,000 - 40,000 GBP
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  • Demons Making a Potent Brew in a Rocky Fortified Landscape
  • Brush and ink, heightened with gouache and gold, on paper
  • 19.8 by 14.3 cm (22.4 by 17.1 cm, including borders)
brush and ink heightened with gouache and gold on paper, laid down on an album page with gold floral borders, reverse with calligraphic page in black and white nast'aliq script with verses in Arabic attributed to Imam 'Ali, signed by Sultan 'Ali Mashhadi, dated "fi shuhur sanna saba' was tis'ain was thaman-ma'iat" (897 AH/1491-92 AD)


Francesca Galloway, London
Acquired in 1992


In good overall condition, blue of sky in upper section slightly faded, 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

The artist of this energetic painting has fully engaged with the strange and exotic subject matter. At mid-right a group of demons prepares a potent brew, seiving a liquid through a muslin into an elegant brass basin. However, the image is full of other vignettes of curious and marvellous activities. Two pairs of demons carry heavy cone-shaped vessels, that almost look like giant animal horns, one of which may be filled with rock or metal as the two demons on the left appear to be emerging from a mine or cave, one carrying a spade. At the upper right a demon and demoness protect their children while another demon kneels in front holding a bird-headed ewer of markedly Deccani inspiration. Along the lower edge two demons carry wild animals - an antelope at left and a boar at right - presumably for the feast for which the brew is also being prepared. Finally, two demons bathe almost submerged in the torrent that gushes out behind the small green tree at lower centre. Among the rocks are the ghostly hint of anthropomorphic faces, including one distinctive example of an old man in profile at the upper centre below the roots of the small tree. It is a tour de force of demonic affairs.

Mahesa (Mahesh) was twelfth of the seventeen artists chosen by Abu'l Fazl for special mention in the A'in-i Akbari as having 'attained fame' (translated by Blochmann 1873 (reprint 1989), vol.I, p.114). Among other important manuscripts, he worked on the Hamzanama, the Darabnama, the Jaipur Razmnama and the Ramayana, the Baburnama and the Victoria and Albert Museum Akbarnama. It is possible that he moved in the late 1590s to the atelier of Abd al-Rahim Kahn-Khanan. He was the father of Miskin and Asi. For discussions of his career and style see Beach 1981, pp.85-87 & 89; Leach 1995, vol.II, p.1110. For another early Mughal example with many similar features see Paris 2001, p.159, no.114. For a drawing of a demon-composite elephant, also possibly by Mahesa, see Welch 1976, pp.40-41, no.11.

The calligrapher Sultan 'Ali al-Mashhadi, who has signed the calligraphic panel of pious verses on the reverse, was one of the greatest masters of the late Timurid and early Safavid periods, and was particularly famed for his nasta'liq. He spent the majority of his working life at the court of Sultan Husain Bayqara at Herat, staying there for a short while after his patron died in 1506, working for Badi' al-Zaman Mirza. He may have spent time at the Bukahara court of the Shaybanid Uzbek Khan after the conquest of Herat, later moving to Mashhad, where he stayed until his death in 1520. He is discussed at length by Qadi Ahmad in his treatise on calligraphers and painters (transl. Minorsky 1959), and the following extract shows the regard in which he was held:

"... the one who carried off the ball of superiority is the cynosure of calligraphers, Maulana Sultan Ali Mashhadi, whose writing is among other writings as the sun is among the other planets. His writing conquered the world and attained such a degree (of perfection) that it seems incredible that anyone could emulate him." (pp.101-2)