John MacGregor Murray, who acquired this painting along with several others in the late eighteenth century, was commissioned in to the Bengal Establishment of the East India Company in 1771, rising to the rank of Colonel in 1787. He was an influential and respected military administrator and among the appointments he held was the post of Military Auditor-General. He was also vice-president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. In 1795 he was awarded a baronetcy and retired to Scotland in 1798, where he became Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Perthshire (see The East India Military Calendar, Containing the Services of General and Field Officers of the Indian Army, London, 1824, pp.461-3). The album of paintings he assembled in India was sold at auction in these rooms, 15 June 1959, lot 117, acquired by Hagop Kevorkian and subsequently dispersed. This leaf was sold again at Sotheby’s, 21 April 1980, lot 128.
Indeed, it may be a previously unknown illustration from the Second Akbarnama. Stylistically the drawing accords with a number of other illustrations from the manuscript, which included drawings and nim-qalam as well as fully coloured miniatures. For a full account of the manuscripts and surviving folios see L. Leach, Mughal and other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, 1995; Losty and Roy, Mughal India, Art, Culture, empire, pp.58-70). Although the majority of folios are preserved in the British Library (163 folios with 39 illustrations, all from part 1), and Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (268 folios with 61 illustrations, from parts 2 and 3, plus seven further illustrations separately mounted), a number are dispersed in other institutions and private collections, including the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (see Beach, The Imperial Image, Washington, 2012, nos.10A-E); the Cleveland Museum of Art (see S. Quintanilla et al., Mughal Painting Art and Stories, Cleveland and London, 2016, fig.4.39, p.171); the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and the Cincinnati Museum of Art. Several have appeared in the market over the last few decades, at least two previously unknown: Sotheby's London, 24 October 2018, lots 75 and 90, 24 October 2007, lot 34; 6 December 1967, lot 124, 13 July 1971, lots 127-8; Sotheby's New York, 25 March 1987, lots 183-6, 2 November 1988, lot 102; Christie's London, 26 October 2017, lot 183; 25 April 1995, lots 8,8A; P and D Colnaghi, London, Persian and Mughal Art, 1976, nos.86i, ii, iii.
The present drawing corresponds closely in size to others from the manuscript: it currently measures 17 by 12.8cm, but has probably been trimmed somewhat at the lower edge and upper edges and possibly at the lateral edges when it was mounted into the later album borders. Thus its original size was probably closer to 21 by 14 cm, which is within the size range of surviving illustrations. It has not yet been possible to identify the specific battle scene depicted here, but further research may bear fruit.
The miniature was given a verbal attribution by Robert Skelton to the artist Sur Das. This attribution would further support the likelihood that the miniature originates from the Second Akbarnama, as Sur Das was one of the most prolific royal artists of the period and painted at least thirteen miniatures in the Second Akbarnama as well as many in other royal manuscripts of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. For further information on Sur Das see the entry on Sur Das in S. Verma, Mughal Painters and Their Works, Delhi, 1994, see also L. Leach, Mughal and other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, 1995, vol.II, pp.1117-18.
The Second Akbarnama manuscript is usually dated to 1602-03 based on two small inscriptions giving regnal year dates of Akbar’s reign. One appears on a folio in the British Library and the other on a folio in the Chester Beatty Library. There has been considerable discussion as to how to read these dates, and as well as the generally accepted 1602-03, a reading that gave a date of 1597-98 was proposed by Seyller in 1987. This latter dating was refuted by Leach in 1995 and recent publications have kept to the dating of 1602-03. For a detailed analysis and discussion of the manuscript see Leach 1995, vol.1, pp.232-294, particularly p.240 for the discussion of the dating; see also J. Seyller, 'Scribal Notes on Mughal Manuscript Illustrations', Artibus Asiae, 48, 1987, pp.261-2. 275; for a more recent discussion see J. Losty and M. Roy, Mughal India, Art, Culture, Empire, 2012, pp.58-69.
Sotheby’s is grateful to Marcus Fraser for cataloguing this lot.
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