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The first Mughal emperor, Babur, conquered northern India in AD 1526. He was descended from Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, a lineage acknowledged in the earliest Mughal painting in the British Museum, ‘Humayun’s Garden Party’. This work was repainted during the reign of Jahangir (1605-27) so that the ‘guests’ would all represent descendants of Tamerlane.
The reigns of Babur’s grandson, Akbar, and his successors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century witnessed the birth and development of the new Mughal style of art and architecture. This combined local Indian and Iranian forms. European prints and enamels also influenced Mughal painting and metalwork.
Akbar and Jahangir had a preference for naturalism in art and the jade terrapin in the British Museum is a vivid example of Mughal realism. This very large jade sculpture faithfully represents the terrapin, which is native to the waters of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers. It is thought to have been produced for Jahangir between 1600 and 1605.
Because the Mughals pushed their conquest of India southward and gained control of the Deccan, the states of Central India, their wealth grew dramatically. Portraits of the Mughal royal family depict them wearing gold armbands, turban ornaments and other jewellery inlaid with rubies, diamonds and emeralds and enamelled on the reverse.
A jewelled and enamelled gold pendant in the British Museum exemplifies this taste. The greatest patron of jewels and fine jewellery was Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal.