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Mughal Art

Mughal Art

Author: Ian McConnell

This lesson will explore the art of the Mughal Empire in India.

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An overview of Mughal Art.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, I'd like to welcome you this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Mughal Art. As you're watching the video feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready we can begin.

Today's objectives-- or the things you are going to learn today-- are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, briefly explain the rise of the Mughal Empire in India, explain the role of miniature paintings in Mughal society, and identify examples of miniature paintings.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Mughal, a Muslim dynasty that ruled parts of India from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Miniature painting, is a type of small elaborately painted image common in India and parts of the Muslim world. And shaykh, religious official and leader of an Arab family or village.

Big idea for today, is that miniature paintings were one of the most important forms of art in Mughal India.

So the Mughal Empire lasted from its founding by Babur in 1526 to its official and in 1757. Although its influence lasted well into the 19th century.

And we'll be traveling to Delhi, India today. So this map shows the extent of the Mughal Empire around 1700. But its origins were a bit more modest. The conqueror Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur, known more commonly as Babur, originated from central Asia and actually has a direct ancestry to Genghis Khan. In fact, the term Mughal derives from the word Mongol. And the Mongols originated from the steppes of Central Asia.

Babur, a Muslim, made his way from his home in modern day Uzbekistan. And after several military campaigns in surrounding territories, including modern day Afghanistan, Babur turned his attention to the Delhi sultanate in northern India. And upon his victory there in 1526 he established himself as the new ruler of Delhi.

So the miniature is a form of artwork that was a popular form of Islamic art, as it was almost exclusively the primary form of artwork in which the use of human images was permitted or even commonplace. Now the Persian influence is evident in Mughal Art. And the Persian tradition never totally forbade the use of human images reason being that they are small images, roughly the size of a textbook page. And it was a private form of art work usually kept in a book and only shown to select individuals. Very rarely would they have been displayed on the wall, for example.

Now this lack of publicity meant that there are fewer rules imposed on miniatures then there were on religious art and architecture. The exception, of course, was the universal prohibition within all Islamic art of showing the image of Muhammad or Allah. Now in scenes in which Muhammad was a subject he would be portrayed with a blank in place of his face.

Now the subject matter of miniatures was typically that of well known historical or religious stories like this image titled "Akbar and the Elephant Hawai" shows the third ruler Akbar The Great bringing a runaway elephant, known as Hawai, under control. Now this image is intended to function as an allegory of Akbar's ability to govern his people effectively and skillfully.

Civilizations like the Mughal Empire didn't exist in a vacuum. They would have been familiar with other cultural movements, such as the artistic movements of Western and Northern Europe. Now this image, titled "Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaykh to Kings" is another allegorical painting that shows the influence of European painting. Now two clothed little cupids flutter around the base of an hourglass upon which the figure of Jahangir, the fourth Mughal ruler sits. Two naked little cupids can be seen above his head.

On the left there are four figures. Starting from the bottom that is an image of the artist himself, the one with red turban. Above him is James the first of England. And above James the first is a Turkish sultan. Above him is an image of a Muslim Sufi Saint, or Shaykh, handing over divine wisdom to the emperor. Now Jahangir makes his preferences clear by accepting this gift over the other earthly gifts available below.

So let's take a look at our objectives again to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you briefly explain the rise of the Mughal Empire in India? Can you explain the role of miniature paintings in Mughal society? Can you identify examples of miniature paintings?

Once again, the big idea for today is that miniature paintings were one of the most important forms of art in Mughal India.

And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Mughal Art"

Key Terms


A Muslim dynasty that ruled parts of India from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

Miniature Painting

A type of small, elaborately painted image common in India and parts of the Muslim world.


A religious official and leader of an Arab family or village.


Image of Mughal Empire Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mughal_Empire_(orthographic_projection).svg; Image of India Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:India_location_map.svg; Image of Babur PD-1923 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Babur_idealisiert.jpg; Akbar & the Elephant; PD-old-auto-1923: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1561-Akbar_riding_the_elephant_Hawa%27I_pursuing_another_elephant_across_a_collapsing_bridge_of_boats_%28left%29.jpg Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaykh to Kings; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bichitr_-_Jahangir_Preferring_a_Sufi_Shaikh_to_Kings,_from_the_St._Petersburg_album_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg