Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Mughal Art in India

What is the Akbarnama?

The Akbarnama (c. 1569–1590) was a series of 116 miniature paintings that document the life and successes of Akbar the Great. The Akbarnama is known for its exceptional detail and realism. Multiple artists worked to produce the work. Akbar the Great commissioned his friend Abul Fasl (1551–1602) to write the biography. For the ruler’s personal copy, the painter Baswan was charged with designing and drawing the illustrations while Chatar Muni then provided the coloring. Folio 22 of the Akbarnama, now part of the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, vividly depicts Akbar riding Hawai, a wild elephant, chasing a second enormous, out-of-control elephant as it stampedes across a pontoon bridge. The image is filled with bold colors and details that add drama to the story. The water is textured so as to appear disturbed by the thrashing of the boatmen knocked into it by the charging elephant. According to the story, Akbar was able to calm and capture the elephant and the image stands as a metaphor for Akbar’s ability to rule a large and often difficult empire.


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