From the Court of Akbar to the Courts of Rajasthan: North Indian Portraiture, 1570-1630

Gulbransen, Krista Hall, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Ehnbom, Daniel, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Fordham, Douglas, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Goedde, Lawrence, Department of Art, University of Virginia

During his nearly fifty year reign from 1556 to 1605, Akbar, the third Mughal sovereign of India, established the empire's largest painting workshop. Among the products of this atelier were portraits of prominent political, cultural, and religious figures from across north India. These depictions constitute the first examples of naturalistic portraiture in India, as pre-Mughal painting is often characterized by the generic quality of its figures. Despite the innovatory nature of Akbari portraiture, this corpus of paintings has received little scholarly attention. A large portion of surviving Akbar period portraits are presented here for the first time. Critically engaging historical texts and painted remains, these portraits are positioned within the political and cultural environment in which they were commissioned and created. In addition to discussing the imperial ideology manifest in these works, the dissertation explores how these portraits shaped Mughal political and military policies: Akbar believed that these images provided valuable information about individuals' personalities, governing abilities, and loyalties which could be exploited for political profit. As such, this project examines Akbari portraits as both visual documents and active historical agents. The dissertation also provides an analysis of significant networks of cultural exchange through which imperial, Mughal aesthetics and the portrait genre were introduced to Rajput patrons and artists in nearby Rajasthan in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Codocologial and connoisseurial methodologies are applied to demonstrate that Akbari portraits, frequently presented as diplomatic gifts to regional leaders, were collected in Rajasthan. In addition to gifted portraits, imperially-trained artists played a pivotal role in the early development of various Rajasthani painting traditions. Relying heavily on unpublished painted and inscriptional evidence, the dissertation reassesses the evolution of portraiture in late sixteenth and early seventeenth century north India, foregrounding works of art from the reign of Akbar. Stylistic innovations typically associated with the patronage of his son, Jahangir, are reattributed to the artists of Akbar's atelier. In so doing, the dissertation argues that an assessment of Akbari portraiture is essential in order to paint a more comprehensive and nuanced picture of the origins of the portrait genre in Mughal India.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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