Mughal Era Paintings

Origin of Mughal School of Paintings is a landmark in history of Indian paintings. The school originated in the reign of Akbar. The origin of Mughal style was a result of synthesis of indigenous Indian style of painting and the Safavid school of Persian painting.

Mughal paintings were a unique blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles. The earliest example of the Mughal style is the Tutinama (‘Tales of a Parrot’) Painting. The reign of Akbar is known for the initial works of Mughal School done by Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdus Samad Khan.

Features of Early Mughal Illustrations

  • Restricted movement of figures.
  • Fineness of the lines of drawings.
  • Symmetrical compositions.
  • The Mughal pictures were small in size, and hence are known as ‘miniature paintings’.
  • Though the Mughal art absorbed the Indian atmosphere, it neither represented the Indian emotions, nor the scenes from the daily life of the Indian.
  • Hence, Mughal painting remained confined to the Mughal court and did not reach the people.
  • The Mughal rulers brought Persian painters with them. At the same time they patronized Indian painters and the collaboration between these two schools of painters resulted in the synthesis.
  • Apart from Persian books of fables, themes from Mahabharata, Ramayana were also selected.
  • Indian scenes and landscapes came into vogue.
  • Paintings were based upon close observation of nature with high aesthetic merit.

Mughal Painting

  • The Mughal paintings represent one of the most significant phases of Indian art. It evolved as a result of the happy synthesis of indigenous Indian style of painting and the Safavid school of Persian painting.
  • The Mughal style of painting was primarily aristocratic and secular.

Babur and Humayun

  • Babur and Humayun came in contact with Persian art and tried to introduce it in India. Humayun fell in love with the art of painting during his refuge at the court of Shah Tehmasp of Persia. He commissioned Mir Syed Ali and Khwaja Abdus Samad (two Persian masters) to illustrate manuscripts for him.
  • An important painting from the period of Humayun is titled Princes of the Hause of Timur which has been executed on cloth and is quite large in size.


  • Akbar established a national school of painting. Mughal painting gradually freed itself from foreign influence ad pursued its own independent course.
  • Akbar established a formal artistic studio and invested considerable energy into it and called it tasvir khana. More than a hundred artists worked here who were salaried employees. It was supervised by daroghas. Artists presented their work before the Emperor.
  • Abul Fazal mentioned the name of Seventeen artists in Akbar’s court. However a list of 225 artists who worked at Akbar’s atelier is also found Majority of these painters were Hindus. Most of them were people belonging to the lower caste. Daswant (son of a palki-bearer) is the most popular example.
  • Paintings became a collaborative team-work. Sometimes even more than three artists worked on a single painting.
  • An illustrated manuscript of the Tuli-nama probably the first work of the Mughal School. The style of Hamza-nama is more refined than that of the Tutinama.
  • The Hamza-nama illustration was the first major project undertaken during Akbar’s regime. In this miniature, Persian influence, Deccani influence and even Rajasthani influence is prominent.
  • Gulistan of Sadi and Anvari-i-Suhayli are some of the manuscripts illustrated during the period of Akbar.
  • The Mughal style was further influenced by European paintings. Mughal courts adopted some Western techniques like shading and perspective.

Jahangir and Shahjahan

  • The Mughal paintings achieved its zenith under Jahangir.
  • Jahangir took a deep interest in painting. He maintained his own studio apart from the large atelier of the state.
  • He was more interested in painting hunting scenes, birds and flowers. He was. a naturalist.
  • An animal fable book called Ayar-i-Danish was illustrated during the period. In this period, manuscripts became less important than individual pictures.
  • He was known for continuing the tradition of portrait painting.
  • The famous painters during the reign of Jahangir are Aqa Riza, Abul Hasan, Mansur, Bishan Das, Manohar, Goverdhan, Balchand, Daulat, Mukhils, Bhim and Inayat.
  • Even Shahjahan did not neglect the art of painting. Under him, the colours of paintings became more decorative Gold was more frequently used.
  • During Shahjahan’s period, painting depicted love scenes, portraits of female members and performing acrobats.
  • Pencil drawing was also encouraged during Shahjahan’s period.

Final Phase of Mughal Painting

  • During the period of Aurangzeb, painting lost much of its earlier quality.
  • Aurangzeb did not encourage painting and a large number of court painters starting migrating towards provincial courts.
  • Under Muhammed Shah (1719-48), there was a survival of the Mughal painting.
  • Depicting of pleasures loving scenes is the most important feature of this period.

Prehistoric Paintings

Ajanta Murals

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