Aurangzeb was the third son of Shah Jahan, who took the title of 'Alamgir ("Seizer of the Universe") when he assumed the throne after imprisoning his father in 1658. Aurangzeb was ruthless in his campaigns and orthodox in his religious beliefs, resulting in the alienation of the Hindu Rajput courts. Much of his long reign was spent battling rebellions. His religious austerity increased throughout his reign, turning him against music, dance and painting and by 1668 Aurangzeb had virtually closed the royal ateliers. As a result the surviving portraits of Aurangzeb were either painted early in his reign or after his death. The current painting is from the earlier part of his reign. As Welch states "In spite of his later austerity ..., a few of the best Mughal paintings were made of 'Alamgir. Perhaps the painters realized that he might close the workshops and therefore exceeded themselves on his behalf." (Welch 1978, p.113). Another painting of exceptional quality depicting a darbar of 'Alamgir
at the beginning of his reign is illustrated in Welch 1978, pl.37. This painting shows the emperor seated on a similar throne beneath a canopy decorated with birds of paradise. As with the current lot this painting also includes his third son, Muhammad A'zam who was born in 1653. Welch suggests the painting was probably painted by Bichitr, the court painter who initially worked in Shah Jahan's atelier and excelled in portraiture. An early portrait of Prince Aurangzeb painted a few years before his ascension to the throne is in the Hodgkin collection (Topsfield 2012, no.17).
This lot is accompanied by a pigment analysis report from AA&R (Art Analysis & Research Inc., London), which states that the repainting was likely carried out early in the life of the work.