From Persia to India: The Historical Fusion in Mughal Miniature Paintings

Indian miniature paintings have a long glorious history, with the earliest examples dating back to the 9th century. However, it wasn't until the establishment of the Mughal Empire in 1526 that miniature painting became a widely celebrated art form in India. The Mughal empire in India stretched from 1526 CE to 1857 CE, and this period witnessed a huge patronage in arts. This led to the creation of many beautiful Mughal miniature paintings of various themes, techniques and styles.


Portrait of Babur 


The Mughal Empire was founded by Babur, a ruler hailing from present-day Uzbekistan. In 1526 CE, Babur triumphed over Ibrahim Lodi of the Delhi Sultanate, seizing control of the capital. Being a descendant of Emperor Timur, Babur's upbringing was influenced by both Central Asian and Persian cultures. He possessed a deep appreciation for art and literature, and his memoir, the Baburnama, vividly depicts his affection for India (Verma, 2016). Babur initiated the tradition of fostering artistic patronage in India. However, his reign was short-lived, and he passed away soon after his victory. His son, Humayun, ascended to the throne in 1530 CE, inheriting the Mughal Empire and its artistic legacy.

Following in his father's footsteps, Humayun continued to support and patronize artists, giving rise to the Mughal style of painting. In order to develop the royal atelier in India and train Indian artists in the art of miniature painting, Humayun invited renowned Persian artists Abdu Samad and Mir Sayyid Ali to his court (Crill and Jariwala, 2010). Their presence and expertise had a profound impact on the development of Mughal miniature paintings, resulting in a direct influence of Persian art on this new artistic style.

This practice of inviting Persian artists to the Mughal court became common, leading to a constant exchange of artistic techniques and ideas. Many artists from Iran were brought to India to work in the Mughal courts, fostering a further synthesis of the Indo-Persian style.


Tomb of Humayun in New Delhi, India


Mughal paintings are often seen as an extension of the classic Persian miniature-style. The influence of Persian literature is evident in the subjects depicted in Indian miniature paintings, and one can even discern Persian words in the calligraphy adorning the borders. The elaborate and intricate geometric borders, as well as the distinctive view and perspective employed in the artworks, are also reminiscent of Persian miniature paintings (Hassan, 2018).

In the creation of Mughal miniature paintings, typically, a team of three artists was involved. The first artist would establish the composition's outline, setting the foundation for the artwork. The second artist would apply the colors and bring the painting to life. Lastly, a specialist in portraiture would meticulously illustrate the facial features, adding depth and character to the figures depicted.

This collaborative process and the inclusion of specialized artists contributed to the richness and complexity of Mughal miniature paintings, showcasing a fusion of Persian and Indian artistic techniques and sensibilities.


Painting of Raja Bharpur Singh of Nabha, containing Persian inscriptions on border

Over time, Mughal miniature paintings underwent significant transformations. They began incorporating more realistic elements and prominently featured Indian themes and stories drawn from literature. One of the crucial developments in the art form was the shift from the flat effect of the Persian style to a more three-dimensional style, largely influenced by the use of Indian-style brushes. This evolution brought a newfound depth and dimension to the Mughal miniature paintings, contributing to their distinct aesthetic appeal.

Crill, Rosemary, and Kapil Jariwala, eds. The Indian Portrait, 1560-1860. Mapin Publishing Pvt Ltd, 2010.
Fisher, Michael. A Short History of the Mughal Empire. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.
Hassan, Fatima Zahra. "Mughal and Persian Miniature Painting", 2018.
Kelley, Charles Fabens. "An Indo-Persian Miniature." Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1907-1951) 29, no. 3 (1935): 38-40.
Kossak, Steven. Indian court painting, 16th-19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997.
Natif, Mika. Mughal occidentalism: artistic encounters between Europe and Asia at the courts of India, 1580-1630. Brill, 2018.
Syed, Muzaffar H. History of Indian Nation: Medieval India. Vol. 2. KK Publications, 2022.
Verma, Som Prakash. The Illustrated Baburnama. Routledge India, 2016.
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Emperors' Album: Images of Mughal India. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.



Leave a comment