Ustad Mansur: Mughal Painter of Flora And Fauna

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Item Code: IDJ975
Author: Som Prakash Verma
Language: English
Edition: 1999
ISBN: 8170173655
Pages: 164 (Color Illus: 20, B/W Illus: 24)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.7" X 8.5"
Weight 890 gm
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Book Description

From the Jacket

This volume follows Mughal Painters and Their Work-A Biographical Survey and Comprehensive Catalogue (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1994), the first comprehensive book of reference on the work of nearly 200 Mughal painters; and has been conceived to provide readers much more information on the Mughal painting through the contribution of individual aster painters. Need not say ample information is available about the artists of the Mughal atelier (sixteenth-seventeenth centuries). Yet, to date, except for some articles on a few painters, no book has been published on individual artist.

Ustad Mansur, a keen observer of nature endowed with almost Euclidean intellect, deserved a more detailed study to re-evaluate his merit as an artist whose achievement in naturalistic portraiture of a larger number of species from the world of flora and fauna has remained unsurpassed till today. Our attempt is to enter into the very creative process of this great Mughal painter; to relive in his times and environment, in order to discover real Mansur. The whole panorama of Mansur's portraits of birds, animals and flowers set in marvelously and uniquely laid background represents, in his true spirit and characteristics, the very quintessence of nature's endless variety of creation and beauty.

Part I provides historical and artistic context in which Ustad Mansur worked. Information about him has been gleaned from original texts (principally Persian historical sources), supplemented by the evidence of artist's own work. Part II comprises the plate section of representative eighteen miniatures that illustrate our painter's style and his specialization in painting. The appendix further enhances the value of this work since it provides correct rendering of contemporary inscriptions and determines genuine signatures and contemporary ascriptions.

The volume is richly illustrated with a large number of black-and-white and colour illustrations. These illustrate the art and style of Ustad Mansur Nadir u'1 'Asr (Unequalled of the Age), the most illustrious naturalist painter of India. It will naturally be of interest to students of art and natural history. It is also recommended to persons curious to know about the Mughal times.

It is hoped that other volumes on individual Mughal painters will follow; and monographs on their lives and work with a critical evaluation will be available.

Professor Som Prakash Verma (b. 1942), an art historian, at present at the Centre of Advanced Study, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, has written two books and has also contributed to scholarly and art journals. His Art and Material Culture in the Paintings of Akbar's Court published in 1978 may rightly be said to be the first authentic treatment of art as a source of history by an Indian scholar. His another volume, Mughal Painters and Their Work-A Biographical Survey and Comprehensive Catalogue, has been published in 1994 by the Oxford University Press, New Delhi. This is a very important work of reference, indispensable for students of Mughal painting. He has edited Art and Culture (Felicitation Volume in Honour of Professor S. Nurul Hasan) jointly with Professor Ahsan Jan Qaisar (1993); and is the Guest-Editor of the Marg Volume: Flora and Fauna in Mughal Art (forthcoming).

Professor Verma is a practicing artist as well. He is the recipient of two prestigious awards by the Indian Academy of Fine Arts, Amritsar (1981) and the Academy of fine Art, Calcutta (1982); and his paintings are known in the art galleries, government and private art collections in India and abroad.

The exhibitions of historical miniatures (reproductions) prepared by him: (1) Everyday Life and Work in Mughal India (1984), (2) Medieval Technology-Illustrations form Indian Art (1984), (3) Wild Life in Mughal Painting (1985), (4) Medieval India Architecture (1986), and (5) The Life of Akbar as Illustrated in Contemporary Miniatures (1992) provide invaluable data on Indian society, culture, art, architecture and technology. At present these are lodged in the Seminar Library, Department of History (AMU).

In 1986-7, Professor Verma worked at the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. as a Fulbright Fellow.

Author's Note

The Mughals invaded, conquered and settled down to enamour Hindustan as their own. Exalted by a sense of prowess and possession they relegated the memories of their land of origin to the confines of occasional nostalgic references only. They swore by their sword, ruled by the dint of their merit, built with passion and verve massive structures of wonder and beauty, encouraged arts and crafts of the finest quality, rewarded and patronized every outstanding talent of their realm. Under their unique patronage such a philosophy of life and action flourished that with its maturity it acquired a distinct culture, so much so, that it carved for itself a permanent niche in history. Emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan are triumvirate high peaks of this imposing range of culture. The best in anything hardly eluded their notice and recognition, notwithstanding fine art. Their meticulous historical sensibility is expressed in the records they left of their lives, times and events. They called upon their commissioned artists to illustrate the recorded descriptions with paint and brush with all exactitude, and rare beauty. Besides, they instructed the artists to paint portraits of the royalty, and all that lured them into wonderment of the strange and the beautiful. The fantastic collections of these records that they left behind, in spite of the time wrought destruction of a great many, are indelible and an infallible source of history of that great many, are indelible and an infallible source of history of that great period of the Mughals. Their ateliers produced works of art that is known the world over, for its exclusiveness, originality and finesse, and later baptized as Mughal school of art by the critics.

In this wonderful throbbing age of high action, Mansur, the great painter of natural history, received recognition of rare excellence in Jahangir's atelier, and left his impress to continue through Shah Jahan's period and later. Jahangir, the astute critic of art, conferred upon him the singular title of Nadir u'l 'Asr for his perfection and achievement.

Great scholars of art history, both here and abroad, have written volumes on the Mughal school of art. International collection and galleries have separate sections devoted to pictures of this school. However, in Mansur's case, it seems that he deserved a more detailed study than what has so far been done, in order to fill up certain, perhaps, inadvertent lacunas, and also, to re-evaluate his merit as an artist whose fame and achievement in naturalistic portraiture of a large number of species from the world of fauna and flora has remained unsurpassed till today.

Mansur is an artistic phenomenon, a creative event of the highest order within the imposed limitations and conventions of the Mughal atelier. He, as a keen observer of nature endowed with almost Euclidean intellect, was also capable of lending certain emotional undertones, wherever the opportunity was, to his purely objective studies, and thereby, produced an art that is at once an admiration of the zoologist, and the art lovers and critics simultaneously. He is a high priest of natural history in art, penetrating the very life of nature with supreme imagination, as well as, unflinching objectivity through the vast multiplicity of Nature's wonderful forms, he saw an inexhaustible range of individuality, variations of moods, myriad colours, and a vibrant continuity. And, the discipline of his mental faculties obliged him to reproduce those forms with the precision of a microscopic vision.

Our exploration is an attempt to enter into the very creative process of this great Mughal painter; to relive in his times and environment, in order to discover a fresh perspective for the appreciation of his work, and in the light of which, try to see those possible factors and mechanics of approach that are responsible for such astounding results. The exercise may, in some cases, involve a re-evaluation of some already existing notions and comments on Mansur, of course, without ever intending to be uncharitable.

In view of the scanty evidential material available on the subject, and the misfortune of not being able to find any continuity in the sequence of Mansur's works because of the complete loss of a large number of them, the difficulties faced have not been very easy to surmount. Besides, the protracted exercise of scanning through a large number of such works which are either copies of the originals, or, pictures with faked ascriptions and forged signature, or, even those which are altogether unascribed but attributed to Mansur, has posed problems which could lead, for lack of alertness, into pitfalls of wrong judgement and erroneous interpretations. To avoid this, I have depended only on those authentic pictures of Mansur which have come out as such after a thorough process of check and recheck, and confirmed with the help of direct and indirect sources. My sole aim in this study has been to remain objective, and avoid, to the best of my efforts, all temptations to hazard interpretations and observations on hypothetical conjectures or unanalytical intuitions.

For transliteration of inscriptions used in the text, I have exclusively followed the system of spelling and diacritical marks adopted by Steingass in his Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary.

The possibilities of this present work occurred to me during my preparation of the volume Mughal Painter and Their Work - A Biographical Survey and Comprehensive Catalogue (Oxford University Press, 1994) which includes a fair amount of information on such material as: biographical records, lists of signed, ascribed and attributed works, and notes on styles, of as many as over two hundred painters of the Mughal school (16th-17th centuries). The magnitude of the problems faced in the preparation of it, demanding vigorous search and continuous scrutiny of the facts, could only be significantly mitigated with the aid of right research methods, and patient inculcation of academic discipline, the training of which I received under the guidance of Professor Irfan Habib. With the same cast of y mind I ventured to give shape and form to my study of Mansur. In this endeavour also, Professor Habib's encouragement and inspiration had always been coming forth ungrudgingly whenever I needed them. For all this, I owe him a deep sense of gratitude.

I am no less indebted to Professor M. A. Alvi and Professor A. J. Qaisar for their sincere and friendly support, and keen interest in my work. Their patient and enlightening discussions on research problems, and valuable suggestions throughout proved to be my mainstay in the preparation of the book.

I am thankful to Professor Shireen Moosvi; Professor Iqbal Husain and Dr. Mohammad Afzal Khan who assisted me in the interpretations of the Persian inscriptions; and to Professor S. K. Saxena and Professor Wajahat Husain of the Department of Botany, Aligarh Muslim University, and Mr. Ambar Habib, an avid bird-watcher, for their help in identifying some of the species of birds and flowers, painted by Mansur.

I am sincerely grateful to Mr. P. K. Ghosh for editing the text of this book, and giving many useful suggestions of highly critical nature on the aesthetic aspects, which proved to be very helpful in the evaluation of Mansur's paintings.

The Ful-bright Fellowship, awarded tome in 1987, enabled me to visit museums and art galleries of New York, Washington and Baltimore, and to have rare pleasure of working with Dr. Milo C. Beach, and discussions on the subject with Professor S. C. Welch and Dr. Esin Atil. This work could have remained bereft of much of its originality had not the opportunity to study Mughal miniatures in the cherished collections in the United States come my way.

My acknowledgements and special thanks are due to the authorities of the National Museum, New Delhi; Sawai Man Singh II Museum, Jaipur; Indian Museum, Calcutta; State Museum, Luchnow; Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Bombay; India Office Library, London; British Museum and Library, London; Royal Library, Windsor; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, for their cooperation.

I should like to thank Ms. Lily Kecskes, Head Librarian, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, who gave me ungrudging assistance in using these splendid libraries. Thanks are due to Mr. M. H. Razvi (Librarian), Mr. Baqar Ali Khan and Mr. Masitullah at the Maulana Azad Library, Aligarh Muslim University and Mr. Aijaz M. Khan, Arshad Ali, M. Yusuf Siddiqi and Noor Ahmad at the Research Library, Centre of Advanced Study, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, where most of my work was given shape and completed.

Mr. Ishrat Alam's contribution by way of checking and comparing the typescript to its final shape must need be mentioned here especially.

Last, but not the least, my gratitude is due to all the members of my family and Dr. Pushpa Prasad, my fiend and colleague, and her daughter Dr. Smriti Prasad, for their patient cooperation and continuous encouragements.


  Author's Note 7
  List of Abbreviations 11
  List of Illustrations 15
  PART I  
1 Introduction 19
2 Historical Background 34
3 Mansur 40
  3.1 Early Phase 42
  3.2 Specialization 46
4 Ascriptions: Artist's Signatures and Emperor's Autographs 57
5 Major Characteristics of Mansur's Art 60
6 Copies of Mansur's Originals and Forged Attributions 66
7 Conclusion 79
  Notes 83
  Notes on Plates (I-XVIII) 109
  Appendix: Paintings by Mansur 124
  (1) Ascribed and Signed Works 124
  (2) Suggested Attributions and Forged Miniatures 139
  Glossary 151
  Select Bibliography 153
  Index 162

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