A feast of Persian and Mughal painting

November began with a real treat – we ran our seminar “Painting and Illumination in Persian and Indian books of the 16th and 17th centuries“, followed by a three-day practical workshop.

Our speaker for the seminar was Dr. Barbara Brend a leading specialist in the subject, who delighted us with her choices of some of the most precious and unusual manuscripts and paintings in the British Library and British Museum collections. Thanks to the curators at both of these institutions, we were able to examine the objects close up in the study rooms while listening to Barbara’s fascinating commentary about the things she loves and knows. It was a privilege  to have access to  such deep knowledge in the context of these extraordinary works of art.

At the British Library we viewed Persian masterpieces from the 15th and 16th centuries that took my breath away, and early Mughal paintings made for the emperor Akbar. Later at the British Museum we viewed further famous works of art from 16th century Iran and Mughal India, some of which I have never seen before. This creature of the Islamic world is actually a “Peri”, loosely translated as “Angel”.  Below are the curator’s comments in the British Museum image catalogue:

© The Trustees of the British Museum

“This is the right-hand page of a pair of angels which were removed at some point from an album now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. While angels appear in the earliest Islamic manuscripts and in form derive from classical prototypes, Buddhist elements, such as the trailing sashes and feet as tongues of flame, entered the Persian pictorial vocabulary in the 14th century.
Both paintings include the slightly shaded face and pop eyes found in some Mughal paintings of the 1560s and later. While the palette and flat, decorative use of arabesque reveal Bukharan influence, the painting may be the product of a Mughal artist working at or in the style of Bukhara rather than the work of a Bukharan.”

Barbara pointed out the leafy hat the angel is wearing, and its extraordinary leafy wings as its usual attributes. The swirling sashes and the belt of golden discs are indications of its other-worldliness. I say ‘it’ because these creatures of another dimension are genderless. The border design is quite unusual, particularly in the use of colour. The smudgy brown areas may originally have been green verdigris, a colour commonly used at the time. which has a tendency to degrade and even burn through the paper.