This striking image of a heavily bearded European man wearing a hat and a fur coat is a Mughal version of a 1524 engraving by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony (1463-1525).
European engravings arrived in India from the late sixteenth century onwards, brought by missionaries, travellers, diplomats and merchants. The imagery they contained was taken up by artists during the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir, and Mughal versions of European prints, some copied verbatim, some with variations or adapted, had become a major feature of Mughal art. The majority of the subjects were religious, including Biblical figures, Christian scenes and figures of saints, or were taken from classical mythology – reflecting the sort of engravings that were brought to India. The copying of a near-contemporary secular figure such as the present example was altogether rarer (another secular example, an equestrian portrait of the Earl of Nottingham, the Lord High Admiral during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I based on an engraving by the English printmaker Thomas Cockson of 1596-1603, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, see M. Fraser, From Kabul to Kolkata, Highlights of Indian Painting in the Fitzwilliam Museum,
Cambridge, 2017, no.25, pp.62-63).
The Mughal artist of the present work has kept quite closely to the original – the face, hat, shape of the beard and the thick fur coat are all quite accurate. The two major differences introduced by the Mughal artist are the book held in the right hand and the fact that the figure’s eyes are looking towards the viewer, whereas in Durer’s print they are gazing off to the left. The texture of the beard has also changed subtly, although the general shape and bushiness remains the same. The book held in the right hand is an interesting addition, as it implies that the artist had seen an engraving of a similar figure holding a book. A strong candidate is a 1587 engraving by Christoph Murer of the French-Swiss religious reformer Wolfgang Musculus (d.1563), who bore a resemblance to Frederick the Wise (at least in the engravings) and had a similarly bushy beard (examples of the engraving are in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich and the University of Tubingen Library). The head and shoulders image shows Musculus in a similar pose to Frederick, wearing a similar hat and fur-lined coat, but significantly he is holding a book. Alternatively, the presence of the book here may be linked to the inscription below the drawing that mentions Saint Bernard. The inscription may have been copied from an engraving of St. Bernard, but, being unfamiliar with the Latin script, the artist has made some mistakes in the lettering. Engravings of at least three Saints Bernard (Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153), Bernard of Uberti (d.1133) and Bernardino of Siena (d.1444)) were in circulation in Europe by the late sixteenth century and although the figures themselves do not resemble Frederick the Wise, most of the engravings show these saints holding a book. One or more of these images of the saints and/or Musculus may have found their way to India and been combined by the Mughal artist with Durer’s image of Frederick the Wise. It is also possible that the drawing was influenced by earlier Mughal versions of these amalgamated European images. A good candidate for an earlier Mughal model is a full-length figure of a European with an extremely similar face, hat and fur coat holding a book in his hand, dating to circa 1595. It was formerly in the Khosrovani-Diba Collection, sold in these rooms 19 October 2016, lot 11.
The calligraphy on the reverse consists of nasta'liq
verses by the Persian poet Mir 'Ali, copied by the great early sixteenth century master of nasta‘liq
Mir 'Ali, whose works were greatly sought after in Mughal India and were included in large numbers in the royal albums of the first half of the seventeenth century.
Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony (1463-1525) was one of Durer's earliest patrons and commissions by him helped Durer’s reputation and influenced others to patronise the artist. The print of Frederick the Wise was based on a drawing by Durer now in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Frederick the Wise was a powerful Catholic ruler, but towards the end of his life he transferred his allegiance to the Lutheran cause. Following Luther's excommunication in 1521 Frederick ensured his safe protection in Wartburg Castle, and is thus remembered as the man who saved Martin Luther from the wrath of the Catholic Church (see http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O137565/frederick-the-wise-elector-of-print-durer-albrecht/).
Sotheby’s is grateful to Marcus Fraser for cataloguing this lot.