"Study of a Nilgai (Blue Bull)", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Artist: Painting by Mansur (active ca. 1589–1626)

Calligrapher: Mir 'Ali Haravi (d. ca. 1550)

Object Name: Album leaf

Date: verso: ca. 1620; recto ca. 1540

Geography: Attributed to India

Culture: Islamic

Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

Dimensions: H. 15 5/16 in. (38.9 cm)
W. 10 1/16 in. (25.6 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955

Accession Number: 55.121.10.13

Description

Mansur, the "wonder of the age," began his career in Akbar's atelier but perfected his extraordinary natural-history painting during Jahangir's reign. He became the emperor's constant traveling companion in order to record visually the natural phenomena that fascinated his master. As Jahangir wrote in his diary, his great-grandfather Babur had only described what he saw, while he himself also ordered drawings to be made of the things he wrote about, so that "the amazement that arose from hearing of them might be increased."
This subtly colored study of a bull antelope, or nilgai, is a taxonomically correct portrait of a particular animal (note the broken horn). It also conveys the texture of the creature's fur bone, horn, and flesh, as well as its gentle spirit, which radiates from the glassy eye and contented expression. Although the background is barely indicated, the contour of the nilgai is so beautifully modulated that the animal's form interacts seamlessly with the space surrounding it.

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