Hindu mythology, £8.99
Height: 680.000 mm
Width: 520.000 mm
Gift of Revd Stratton Campbell
ME OA 1925.9-29.01
The prophet Elijah rescuing Hamza's nephew, Prince Nur ad-Dahr, a painting in gouache on cotton
Mughal dynasty, AD 1562-77
An episode from the Hamzanama ('Book of Hamza')
The Hamzanama ('Book of Hamza'), is a heroic romance about the legendary adventures of the Prophet Muhammad's uncle, Amir Hamza. Here he is rescued by the prophet Elijah (known to Muslims as Ilyas). Elijah is mentioned in both the Bible and in the Qur'an. In Muslim tradition, he acquired a popular status as a miraculous guardian-figure.
The young Mughal emperor Akbar (reigned 1556-1605) enjoyed listening to the tales of the Hamzanama at his court, and in 1562 he ordered his artists to produce an illustrated version. The project was to occupy the imperial studio for at least fifteen years. The completed work was fourteen volumes long, with each volume illustrated by one hundred paintings! Approximately one hundred of the paintings survive today. Their confident style shows a surprising level of unity, coming from artists recently gathered from the very different artistic traditions of India and Safavid Persia.
Akbar took a keen interest in the activities of his court artists, and it seems that he was directly involved in the design of the Hamzanama paintings. His biographer described it as 'that wondrous book which is one of the astonishing novelties that His Majesty has conceived of'. As a boy, he was taught to paint by cAbd as-Samad, an Iranian artist who had come to India on the invitation of Akbar's father Humayun, and was later the head of the imperial studio. After becoming the emperor at the age of fourteen, Akbar took to visiting the studio once a week, to review progress, and award gifts and pay-rises when appropriate.
J.M. Rogers, Mughal miniatures (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)
J. P. Losty, The art of the book in India (London, British Library, 1982)