Collection online

painting / album

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Dervish with a snake-headed staff; single-page painting on a detached album folio. Portrait of a wandering, blue-eyed dervish covered in symbolic trinkets and carrying a snake-headed staff. Under the Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign (1556–1605), certain branches of Sufism saturated the Indian subcontinent and displayed practices in common with local mystics. The portrayed dervish may represent an ascetic figure of the time. No text.
    Ink, watercolour and gold on paper.


  • School/style

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1570 (circa)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 19 centimetres (painting/page)
    • Width: 12.8 centimetres (painting/page)
    • Height: 26.7 centimetres (with adhered sheet support)
    • Width: 20.2 centimetres (with adhered sheet support)
    • Height: 56 centimetres (mounted)
    • Width: 40.5 centimetres (mounted)
    • Thickness: 0.7 centimetres (mount)
  • Curator's comments

    Michael Brand and Glenn D. Lowry, Akbar's India: Art from the Mughal City of Victory (New York: Asia Society, 1986), cat. no. 40.Itinerant dervish with snake-headed staff
    India, Mughal school, c. 1570
    Opaque watercolour and gold on paper

    The mendicant and ascetic ways of certain dervish orders in India had much in common with those of Hindu yogis. Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) sought spiritual advice from both Muslims and Hindus and eventually formed a new religion, the Din Ilahi, that incorporated the beliefs of both religions.

    A Wandering Dervish
    Gouache and gold on paper
    Mughal India, about 1560-70

    The wandering dervishes aroused disapproval in orthodox Islam both for their vagrancy and for their unorthodox practices. These are exemplified here by the disorderly dress, the jewellery and implements which would be much more appropriate to an Indian fakir, and even the blue eyes which in many Muslim cultures are regarded as highly inconspicious.

    Dervish with a snake-headed staff

    Despite being a mendicant, this blue-eyed dervish is decorated with baubles. Although none contains precious stones, except perhaps his belt buckel, he is adorned with gold chains around his neck, chest, arms, waist and legs. Bells and feather amulets may have been intended to ward off evil spirits.


  • Bibliography

    • Calza 2012 p. 197; p. 266, cat. V.2 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history


    2015 11 Mar - 8 Jul, BM, G34, 'The Prince and the Pir: representations of dervishes and mysticism in Iran and India'
    2012 - 2013 15 Oct - 3 Feb, Rome, Fondazione Roma Museo - Palazzo Sciarra, 'Akbar: The Great Emperor of India'
    2007 14 Sep-2 Dec, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2007 3 Feb-27 May, Taipei, National Palace Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2006 18 Mar-4 Jun, Beijing, Capital Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2003 28 Jun-21 Oct, Zürich, Rietberg Museum, 'The Adventures of Hamza'
    2002 2 Nov-2003 26 Jan, New York, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, 'The Adventures of Hamza'
    2002 23 Jun-29 Sept, Washington, Sackler Gallery, 'The Adventures of Hamza'
    1991 9 Mar-7 May, Japan, Osaka, National Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.146
    1991 5 Jan-20 Feb, Japan, Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.146
    1990 20 Oct-9 Dec, Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.146

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Ex. Christie's, 13-14th June, lot 44.

  • Department

    Middle East

  • Registration number


Painting, miniature. General subject - figure, religious. Pilgrim with a snake-headed staff. Painted on paper.

Painting, miniature. General subject - figure, religious. Pilgrim with a snake-headed staff. Painted on paper.

Image description



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Object reference number: RFM1598

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