Mughal paintings developed around the 16th century. Mughal paintings are the kind of paintings that the Mughals brought in with them. Mughal Paintings evolved from the Persian school of miniature paintings but gradually moved away from Persian ideals. Mughal Paintings were usually the kind of art that was patronized by the Kings and hence lost importance when the rulers lost interest. The themes of the paintings generally revolved around social life, hunting scenes, battlegrounds, legendary stories, mythology, royal life, etc. These paintings are considered to be an important medium to narrate the Mughal life. Mughal paintings gained so much popularity that they eventually made their way to various other Indian Courts as well.
Delhi Sultanate ruled most parts of the Indian Subcontinent before the emergence of the Mughals. Miniature paintings widely avail-able during the rule of the Delhi Sultanate and were in its evolving stage. Humayun (1508-1556) returned to India after completing his 15 years of exile and brought with him two very eminent Persian artists-Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd al-Samad. Based on the instructions given by Humayun they started making paintings, miniatures, portraits, etc, these then deviated in style from Persian Paintings and thus evolved a new form of paintings called ‘The Mughal Paintings’. Mughal Paintings gained popularity among the nobles because they thought that this was a suitable way in which they could portray their royalty to the common masses.
Mughal Paintings grew in numbers during the reign of Humayun, after the death of Humayun, his son Akbar (1542-1605) took up the responsibility and amplified his father’s collection. Akbar was very particular about his paintings thus took up the responsibility with great care. He commissioned various artists throughout his reign. One of the first paintings patronized by Akbar was called ‘Tutinama’ which means ‘Tales of a Parrot’. Tutinama is an illustration in which a parrot, for 52 successive nights tries to persuade his female owner, Khojasta not to commit any sort of adultery while her husband his away. It took the artists almost 5 years to complete the painting. Tutinama is preserved in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio in the present day. The second exquisite piece of art commissioned by Akbar was the ‘Hamzanama’. This collection depicts the adventures of Hamza, who was the uncle of Prophet Muhammad. His life was worth an exquisite piece of art because he traveled the world intending to spread Islam. This painting was completed by a group of 30 artists supervised by Sayyid Ali. The Victoria and Albert Museum currently has the text in its collection of Mughal Arts. Akbar commissioned various other paintings like Gulistan, Darab Nama, Khamsa of Nizami, etc. The only challenge that the architectures faced during the reign of Akbar was the painting of epic characters in Mughal settings and clothes.
Next came the reign of Jahangir. He was also extremely intrigued by the concept of Mughal art, thus Mughal paintings continued to grow under his reign. He was influenced by the European Paintings, thus he wanted his artists to follow the perspectives of the European artists. The most famous literary text commissioned by him was the Razmnama, which is the Persian translation of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. His paintings mostly had finer brushstrokes and lighter colors were used. One of the major projects commissioned by him was the Jahangirnama, which was his autobiography and it consisted of several unusual themes like spiders, social life etc. The project also included many of his individual portraits. However, he also commissioned paintings of natural life including birds, wild animals, and portrayed them in a very realistic manner. Thus, we can say that Mughal paintings evolved during the reign of Jahangir.
Production of Mughal paintings continued during the reign of Shah Jahan but the paintings shown in the court became quite rigid and formal. However, he had a large private collection of paintings depicting gardens and leisure scenes. He also ordered many paintings that showed lovers in intimate positions. He commissioned a very important work called the Padshahnama, this is considered an extravagant piece of work because it has gold plating work in it. This text includes the achievements of the kings with other servants and their courtiers. Several paintings that were made under his reign are now housed at various museums around the world.
During the reign Of Muhammad Shah (1719-1748) the paintings received a brief revival because he was a patron of arts. His paintings mostly depicted scenes of festivals, celebrations, hunting expeditions etc.
Unfortunately, after the death of Muhammad Shah, Mughal paintings declined. After the decline of Mughal paintings, there emerged new schools of paintings that were influenced by Mughal paintings in various other kingdoms, like those of Rajputs. Several Hindu schools of paintings were influenced by the Mughal paintings. However, with the advent of the Britishers, the paintings underwent western influence at large.
The Mughal paintings were started by the Persian artist Mir Saiyyad Ali and Abd al-Samad that were the main gems in the Mughal Paintings. However, in the 16th and 17th century many famous painters such as Basawan, Miskin, Daswanth, and LAL worked efficiently in the Mughal Empire. Akbar brought an artist named Kesu Das to start European technique in their paintings and another known painter Govardhan worked in Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan reign with complete interest. Some of the other outstanding artists are Mushfiq, Fazl, and Kamal.