Opaque watercolor on paper; 6 5/8 x 11 in. (16.8 x 27.9 cm)
Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2005 (2005.235a)
In a landscape rendered in washy earth tones, Mughal hunters look on as a herd of nilgai ("blue" deer) graze in a scrubland near a lotus-filled pond. The four imperial huntsmen, dressed in green, conceal themselves behind bushes and camouflage screens as a royal party approaches from the right. This hunting scene represents a classic genre of late seventeenth-century Mughal paintings that depict royal hunts, typically centered around a portrait of the emperor Aurangzeb (r. 16581707). In a break from convention, this composition lacks a central portrait of its patron, but the close observation of nature and sensitive rendering of the animals are hallmarks of Mughal painting.
By the end of his reign, Aurangzeb had turned away from the patronage of art and was more concerned with religious orthodoxy. Quite possibly this painting was made for his son, Bahadur Shah I (r. 170712), under whose influence Mughal painting reflected a blending of nostalgia and innovation.