Emperor Shah Jahan (1592–1666), 17th century
Opaque watercolor on paper 12 3/4 in. x 8 3/4 in. (32.39 cm x 22.23 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, The William and Edith Cleary Collection1992.8.1
The Mughal conquest of India in 1526 signaled changes in artistic production. Most of the Mughal rulers supported painting, and large ateliers developed in the courts. While Persian painting influenced the earliest Mughal art, naturalism soon dominated. Akbar (1542–1605), who was enthroned at the age of fourteen, welcomed artists of all traditions to his cosmopolitan court, thus giving rise to a style of painting distinct from the Persian-derived court style that had flourished in the early 16th century. In particular, there was a new interest in portraiture that closely adhered to the physiognomy of the individual.
Akbar’s son Jahangir (1569–1627) was responsible for overseeing further refinement in the painting of the royal atelier, and many of the works produced during his reign are among the finest created during the Mughal Period. He was succeeded by Shah Jahan (1592–1666, r. 1628–1658), who ruled the Mughal empire during the period of its greatest prosperity. This sense of well-being perhaps encouraged the artists working in his studio to create an idealized world.
Shah Jahan is best-known for the Taj Mahal, which he built as a tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Under his reign, portraiture shifted from the verisimilitude achieved under his father to an emphasis on surface decoration. Here the emperor holds a jewel, and the aureole that surrounds his head attests to the fact that he is indeed Shah Jahan, “king of the world.”