Portrait of a Dignitary

18th Century
Gouache heightened with gold on paper
Folio: 5 3/8 by 8 7/8 in. (22.5 by 13.3 cm.)

Françoise and Claude Bourelier, Paris

This finely-rendered portrait of a Mughal nobleman smoking a hookah is unusual in its composition, inviting the viewer into his private chambers to catch a glimpse of the prince in a tranquil and intimate moment.  He wears a white turban with fine jeweled sarpech (turban ornament) and wide gold fabric belt over his garment as he reclines against a purple cushion embroidered with gold and holds a similar cushion to his body. 

At their height, the Mughals ruled over much of the land that today comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, founding the opulent city of Shahjahanabad, now Old Dehli, in 1648. Between the years 1707 and 1857, the cultural center of Delhi in North India was the locus of a dramatic shift of power with the decline of the Mughal Empire and the rise of the British Raj. This critical transitional period altered Indian culture, politics, and art, and brought unprecedented artistic innovation and experimentation. The artistic flowering of this time is evident in jewel-like portraits, miniature paintings, striking panoramas, and exquisite decorative arts crafted for Mughal emperors and European residents alike, and the later Mughal emperors continued to patronize remarkable artists and poets with Medici-like discrimination.