THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

10 posts from May 2013

31 May 2013

The Shahnameh as propaganda for World War II

The British Library’s newly opened exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion includes a number of exhibits relating to Asian and African Studies, one of which is a series of postcards dating from World War II based on an episode from the famous Persian epic the Shahnameh, or ‘Book of Kings.’

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Zahhak enthroned, with serpents rising from his shoulders. From a provincial Timurid Shahnameh from Mazandaran dated 850/1446 (Or.12688, f22r)
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The Shahnameh, written by Firdawsi (940-1025), tells the history of Iran in verse over the course of 55,000 rhyming couplets, from its mythical origins in pre-history to the end of Sasanian empire (AD 650), and includes many of the classic stories that have come to be emblematic of Persian culture, such as the love stories of Khusraw and Shirin and Bizhan and Manizheh, as well as the exploits of the Herculean hero Rustam and his tragic encounter with his son, Sohrab. Through his authorship of this epic poem, Firdawsi is credited with saving the Persian language at a time when Arabic had become the paramount language of religion, culture and power.

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Left: the moment when Ahriman-Goebbels, disguised as Zahhak-Hitler’s cook, causes serpents with the faces of Mussolini and Tojo to grow out of his shoulders. Right: Zahhak-Hitler executing the innocent and tyrannising the population (COI Archive PP/13/9L) Images on line
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The postcards on display in the current exhibition use the myth of the tyrant Zahhak in an attempt at rendering anti-German propaganda more relevant to Iranian cultural sensibilities. The Iranian scholar Mojtaba Minovi (1903 -1976) was working for the BBC Persian service during World War II, editing the pro-Allied newspaper Ruzgar-i Naw. When asked for advice on an effective propaganda campaign for Iran, he suggested using stories and imagery from the Shahnameh (see Wynn, p. 4) to appeal to the Iranian people. Minovi’s advice was taken and the images were created in 1942 by Kimon Evan Marengo (1904-1988), known by the sobriquet Kem, a prolific creator of propaganda cartoons for the British during the war.

The tyrant Zahhak, who features as Hitler in the postcards, epitomises an oppressive and barbaric ruler who brings to an end the enlightened rule of Jamshid. One understanding of Firdawsi’s tale is that Zahhak is symbolic of the Arab invaders who brought an end to the Sasanian Empire and supposedly to Persian civilisation. After Zahhak fully displays his capacity for barbarity, Ahriman (i.e., Iblis or Satan) causes serpents to grow from his shoulders that require a daily feeding of human brains, with victims chosen from among the youth of Iran. After years of reigning in terror, Zahhak has a dream of his downfall in which three warriors approach on horseback, one of whom is Feraydun, from whose face farr (the light of kingliness and justice) emanates. After this dream, a blacksmith, named Kaveh, arrives at Zahhak’s court requesting the release of his son, one of the youths who is to be fed to the snakes on Zahhak’s shoulders. In front of his court, Zahhak feigns mercy and releases Kaveh’s son, but later asks Kaveh to sign a document attesting to his mercy. Kaveh refuses to falsely affirm the justice of a tyrant and tears up the document. He then raises his blacksmith’s banner on a standard, foments a popular rebellion and goes in search of Feraydun, the future king who would rid Iran of Zahhak’s injustice and brutality. At the end of this episode, Feraydun dethrones Zahhak but rather than killing him, binds him in Mount Damavand to be tortured by the snakes on his shoulders until the end of time.

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Left: Zahhak-Hitler’s dream, in which the three warriors who will cause his demise appear – here depicted as Chuchill, Stalin and Roosevelt. Right: Kaveh, the symbol of liberation for the Iranian people, coming before Zahhak-Hitler and raising his blacksmith’s apron as a banner of rebellion (COI Archive PP/13/9L) Images online
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Left: the arrival of the promised warriors, Churchill leading the way with his cigar, following by Stalin with his pipe and Roosevelt with his cigarette in its signature holder. The trio are, of course, led by the symbol of Iranian national liberation, Kaveh with his banner, suggesting that an Allied victory would be a triumph for the Iranian people and not an occupation. Right: Zahhak-Hitler is nailed to Mt Damavand by the liberated Iranian people, with the Mussolini and Tojo snakes on his shoulders appearing rather deflated as the trio of western leaders gaze benevolently at the scene (COI Archive PP/13/9L) Images online
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My sincere thanks to Drs Melville, Ansari and Motadel for their help in explaining the postcards and pointing me in the direction of the relevant literature.

Nur Sobers-Khan, Asian and African Studies
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Further reading
Valerie Holman, ‘Kem’s Cartoons in the Second World War,’ History Today (March, 2002)
A. Wynn. ‘The Shāh-nāme and British Propaganda in Irān in World War II’, Manuscripta Orientalia 16/1 (June 2010)
Dick Davis. Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, 3 vols. (Washington: Mage, 1998, 2000 and 2004)

Excellent internet resources on the Shahnameh are:
A website devoted to the Shahnameh exhibition of 2010 at the  Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge
The digital Shāhnāmah Project database

30 May 2013

Book containing 1000 beautiful paintings from the Song Dynasty period is donated to the British Library by Zhejiang University

The British Library’s Asian and African department is home to a vast collection of Chinese artefacts, books and manuscripts. These include the oldest items in the Library: the oracle bones – some 3500 years old, 18th-century Chinese books from Sir Hans Sloane’s own collections, and the Diamond Sutra – the earliest printed ‘book’ in the world, dated AD 868.

As of yesterday, these collections will now be joined by a new acquisition generously donated by Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. A host of delegates including Mr Jin Deshui, Chairman of University Council, and representatives from the Cultural Section of the Chinese Embassy in London, visited the Library in order to deliver an impressive set of volumes, which you can see below.

Picture of the donated books

The 21 volumes, entitled Complete Collection of Paintings of the Song Dynasty, fully exhibit in beautiful high-resolution images the approximately 1000 paintings produced during the Song dynasty, which ruled China between 960 and 1279.

Picture of the books on display

Over a three year period, Zheijang University painstakingly compiled the collection of paintings, with supporting text and documents, contacting different organisations who keep the originals of the paintings and organising for them to be photographed and brought together for the first time.

This donation, received gratefully by Caroline Brazier, Director of Collections at the British Library and me, will be a remarkable resource for researchers using the Library and we hope will bring many new discoveries around this fantastically rich period of art and scholarship.

Picture of books bening received by Caroline Brazier and Frances Wood

Frances Wood, Lead Curator of Chinese Studies

29 May 2013

A recently digitised Korean royal manuscript

A digital version is now available online of the highlight of the British Library’s Korean collections, a lavishly illustrated manuscript entitled Records of the ritual presentation and banquet in the kisa year (Kisa chinp'yori chinch'an ŭigwe' 己巳進表裏進饌儀軌) produced in 1809.


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Arrangement of the Hall of Bright Spring for the presentation ceremony (Or.7458, fol. 11 verso)
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The manuscript was created for the Korean Royal Court as a record of the ceremonies conducted in the first and second months of 1809 to mark the 60th anniversary of the consummation of the marriage of Lady Hyegyŏng 惠慶宮 (1735-1815), grandmother of the reigning King Sunjo. Lady Hyegyǒng was married in 1744 at the age of 9 to Crown Prince Sado (1735-1762), son and heir of King Yǒngjo. However, the marriage was only consummated 5 years later when she and her husband reached adulthood and it is the anniversary of this event which is commemorated in the British Library's manuscript. Crown Prince Sado became mentally unstable and was eventually put to death on his father’s orders by being locked in a rice chest till he starved. Lady Hyegyǒng survived her husband’s disgrace and her own subsequent fall from favour. She lived to see her son and grandson, Kings Chǒngjo and Sunjo, ascend the throne, in 1776 and 1800 respectively, and was ultimately elevated to the rank of Queen Dowager. Lady Hyegyong left a vivid account of her life, Hanjungnok (Records of Silence), which has been published in translation several times, most recently as The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong (see below).

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The musicians and orchestra (Or.7458, fol. 17 recto)
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The ceremonies organised in 1809 were part of the King Sunjo’s desire to make amends for the past ignominies his grandmother had suffered and no expense was spared. The manuscript provides a faithful record in words and images of the formal presentation of cloth (chinp’yori) and of the banquet (chinch’an). There are detailed plans of the layout of the palace halls where the events took place, lists of the edicts issued to regulate them and of the court officials involved. However, the most striking section of the manuscripts are the 18 folios of meticulous paintings showing the buildings, regalia, musicians, musical instruments, furniture and floral decorations used in the ceremonies.

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Flower arrangements (Or.7458, fol. 20 verso)
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Commemorative manuscripts of this type, called in Korean ǔigwe, were produced for many royal events in Chosǒn Period Korea. Usually several copies were produced, the finest being kept as a “royal viewing copy” with other less elaborate versions being housed for safety in repositories in different parts of Korea. One of the most important of these archives was housed in the Oegyujanggak on Kanghwa Island in the estuary of the Han River which was looted in 1866 by a French naval contingent under Admiral Roze in retaliation for the murder of French missionaries. The contents of the library were taken back to France and for many years were kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. In 2010, after years of intergovernmental negotiation, a total of 297 ǔigwe were returned to Korea on a long-term renewable loan.

The exact provenance of the British Library’s manuscript and the circumstances under which it left Korea are unclear. What is known from documents in the BL archives is that it was purchased by the British Museum in 1891 for £10 from a certain H Fauré, a Parisian cheese merchant. It is clear that he was an agent acting on behalf of the actual owner whose identity is not revealed in the extant documents. The manuscript was transferred from the British Museum to the British Library on its establishment in 1973.

Hamish Todd, Lead Curator, Japanese and Korean
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Further reading
The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea, translated by JaHyun Kim Haboush. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

23 May 2013

A Mughal Flower Show

Since the RHS Chelsea Flower Showis taking place this week, I thought it would be appropriate to post a colourful display of flowers from one of our most significant treasures, Prince Dara Shikoh’s album, exhibited recently in ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’. My hope is that, despite the current weather, it will remind readers that summer is really on its way! 

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A blue iris and a butterfly (Add.Or.3129, f 41v). Images online
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This album was compiled by Dara Shikoh (1615-1659), the eldest son and heir of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1627-1658). More inclined to philosophy than statecraft, the author and connoisseur Dara Shikoh was eventually executed for heresy by his younger brother Awrangzeb. He presented this album in AH 1051 (AD 1641/42) to his wife Nadira Banu Begam, his cousin, whom he had married in 1633. It contains altogether 68 miniature paintings which are interspersed with examples of calligraphy. Two portraits of Jahanara and Nadira Banu can be seen in some of our earlier blogs.

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Dara Shikoh’s personal dedication to Nadira Banu is dated 1056 (1646-7): ‘This precious album was given to his special companion, intimate and confidante Nadira Banu Begum by Muhammad Dara Shikoh, son of the conquering Emperor Shah Jahan’ (Add.Or.3129, f 2r). Images online
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Besides containing exquisite portraits, the album also includes fine examples of the flower studies and floral arrangements of which the Mughals were so fond, inspired by nature and also by European originals.

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This floral study includes a marigold, an iris, a chrysanthemum, a pimpernel, a rose, and possibly a specimen of Jacob’s ladder (Add.Or.3129, f 67v). Images online
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Paired with the page above, this painting shows different varieties of roses and lilies (Add.Or.3129, f.68r). Images online
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More exotic flowers with insects alighting on them (Add.Or.3129, f 49v). Images online
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Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
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Further reading

J.P. Losty and M. Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. London: British Library, 2012, pp.124-137

22 May 2013

Bombay and Calcutta in Sydney

It seems absurd that as long as 400 years ago, a trading company based in Asia and Africa was run out of London. But this is precisely how the East India Company’s affairs were decided. In a room in London, the East India Company’s Directors would meet, and make major decisions that would drastically affect the lives of others in places that they had never been to.

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The Directors' Court Room, East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, c.1820 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (BL Reference: WD2465)
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In 1732 the East India Company commissioned six seascapes of their main trading posts, which were displayed in the Director’s Courtroom of East India House in London. The resulting six paintings showed the East India Company’s trading posts at Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Tellicherry, the Cape of Good Hope and St Helena. They conjured up the spread of imperial power inside a single room in the City of London. All six of the paintings were by George Lambert (1710-1765), and Samuel Scott (1701/2-1772). Neither of these two men ever set foot in the places portrayed in the pictures. Lambert painted the architectural views in the background, and most likely based them on published images. Scott was a maritime painter, so his contribution was the ships in the foreground. The paintings are now part of the British Library’s India Office Collections.

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Fort William, Calcutta, c.1731 by George Lambert (1710-1765), and Samuel Scott (1701/2-1772) (BL Reference: F45)
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281 years after they were commissioned, Lambert and Scott’s seascapes of Bombay and Calcutta have been sent to Australia’s National Maritime Museum in Sydney, where they are being exhibited in ‘East of India: Forgotten Trade with Australia’. Their inclusion in this international exhibition is incredibly significant. They were painted to symbolise the world beyond London, and centuries later, they have been sent from London to another part of the world.

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Bombay, c.1731 by George Lambert (1710-1765), and Samuel Scott (1701/2-1772) (BL Reference: F48)
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If you are in Sydney, or have an opportunity to visit before 18 August 2013, please go to ‘East of India: Forgotten Trade with Australia’ at the Australian Maritime Museum.


Jennifer Howes, Visual Arts Curator
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20 May 2013

'The Mughals: Art, Culture and Empire' in Kabul

Queen's Palace, Babur Gardens, Kabul
12 May - 25 June 2013

The hugely successful Mughals exhibition at the British Library has now been made accessible to an Afghan audience in the form of high-quality digital facsimiles of the majority of the items seen in the original exhibition. The venue of the present exhibition, which opened in the Queen’s Palace in the Babur Gardens in Kabul, is particularly appropriate, situated as it is only a stone’s throw from the tomb of Babur, the first Mughal emperor.

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Babur's Tomb in Babur's Garden, Kabul  
  ccownwork John Falconer

The exhibition forms part of an ongoing collaborative partnership between the British Library and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, supported by the Norwegian Government through the Afghan Cultural Initiative.

The exhibition was opened on Sunday 12 May at an event attended by representatives from the diplomatic community, Afghan cultural institutions and the Afghan Government. Opening addresses were given by Ajmal Maiwandi (CEO Aga Khan Trust for Culture), Sayed Musadiq Khalili (Deputy Minister of Information and Culture), H.E. Nurjehan Mawani (Diplomatic Representative, Aga Khan Development Network), H.E. Nils Hangstveit (Norwegian Ambassador to Afghanistan) and John Falconer (British Library).

The exhibition will be on view in Kabul until 25 June. It is hoped that the exhibition will also tour within Afghanistan, to Herat and/or Balkh.

The mounting of a facsimile version of the Mughals exhibition in Kabul is the second collaboration between the British Library and Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and follows an exhibition of prints, drawings and photographs of Afghanistan from the British Library collections, which was seen in the same location in 2010.

Photograph albums of the installation, exhibition and opening event can be viewed at http://bit.ly/14IB6pM

A few photographs from the exhibition follow.
Mughal Kabul openingMughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Babur's Gardens, Kabul 
 ccownwork John Falconer


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Installing Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul
 ccownwork John Falconer

 

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Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul 
 ccownwork John Falconer

For more images of the installation, exhibition and opening event, see the Flickr album: http://bit.ly/14IB6pM

To read more about the British Library's exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, please see our blog post 'A farewell to the Mughals'.

 

John Falconer
Lead Curator, Visual Arts

15 May 2013

Thai massage in the early 19th century

Traditional Thai medicine is a holistic discipline involving extensive use of indigenous herbal and massage/pressure treatment combined with aspects of spirituality and mental wellbeing. Having been influenced by Indian and Chinese concepts of healing, traditional Thai medicine understands disease not as a physical matter alone, but also as an imbalance of the patient with his social and spiritual world.

Thai medical manuscripts written during the 19th century give a broad overview of different methods of treatment and prevention, of the understanding and knowledge of the human body, mind/spirit and diseases. In 1831, King Rama III ordered the compilation of various medical treatises to be used as teaching materials for the newly established royal medical schools at Wat Phrachetuphon (Wat Pho) and Wat Ratcha-orot in Bangkok. Wat Phrachetuphon formally became the first Royal School of Medicine in 1889 and still runs a Thai Traditional Medical School today.

Tamra phaet4_576This folding book, containing extracts from the Vinaya Pitaka and the legend of Phra Malai (a monk who is believed to have travelled to heavens and hells through the powers of meditation), depicts two elderly women, one massaging the legs of the other woman lying down on the floor with her hands folded in prayer. In the background earthenware vessels contain traditional medicines, which were usually boiled in big pots and then taken throughout the day (Or 13703, f. 81).
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Medical manuals and handbooks (khamphi phaetsāt songkhro) describe the anatomy and physiology of the human body, diseases and their possible causes, and methods of diagnosis and treatment. Some of these books are finely illustrated with human figures and diagrams; sometimes the human figures themselves appear like diagrams, particularly in massage treatises (tamrā nūat). Other manuals contain knowledge in the field of midwifery and herbalist practices including recipes for the preparation and use of herbal medicines (tamrā yā samunphrai). Most of these manuals were based on the knowledge and texts used by the royal physicians at the Thai court. Thai traditional medicine can be traced back to the Dvaravati (6th-13th centuries) and Sukhothai (ca.1238-1438) kingdoms according to stone inscriptions and pharmaceutical artefacts. Under King Narai (1656-1688), the first Thai pharmacopeia known as ‘Tamra Phra Osot Phra Narai’ was compiled by royal physicians.

According to the medical treatises, the human body consists of 42 elements, belonging to four groups (earth, wind, water and fire). If one or several of these elements are in disorder, it causes disease. The traditional Thai physician would have to find out which elements were unbalanced and why, and then try to restore the balance between them. This could be achieved by various methods, which included treatment with herbal and other supporting natural remedies, pressure points massage and body or head massage, as well as physical exercise (Yoga), meditation and dieting – or a combination of several of these methods.


A massage manual from Bangkok (Or 13922)

Tamra phaet1_720 Or 13922, ff. 1-5
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This lavishly illustrated paper folding book (samut khoi) with black lacquered covers is a manual for pressure massage in Thai language and script. It describes the channels in the body terminating in pressure points and how pressure massage can be used to treat certain illnesses. It is believed that the book was produced at Wat Phrachetuphon, Bangkok, in the first half of the 19th century as the text clearly relates to the medical inscriptions from that time on the walls of this royal temple, which is adjacent to the royal palace.

It begins with an unlabelled large gilded diagram of the human body (Or 13922, ff. 1-5, shown on the left). It gives an introductory overview of the network of channels within the body. The figure is shown wearing lavish gilt royal headgear and the main pressure points are also gilt, whereas the rest of the body has been drawn in black ink. The area around the navel is a central point where many channels start.

This manuscript can be viewed in full on our digitised manuscripts webpage.

The diagram below (Or 13922, f. 32) indicates the channels and main pressure areas of the body, stylistically represented by spiralling calligraphic lines. One channel known as pinkhalā, for instance, begins at the navel and proceeds past the base of the right leg to exit via the back. Another channel, the susumannā line proceeds from the navel into the chest, climbs through the body and exits through the tongue.

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Or 13922, f. 32
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In most of the diagrams, the pressure points are named and their functions are described in detail. The fleshy areas of the body are all neatly labelled as such, so that the book also gives insight into the Thai understanding of the human anatomy. Each illustration indicates the points of the body that can be treated with pressure massage, which diseases can be treated and how many times certain points have to be massaged.

Tamra phaet3_576Here the pressure point above the right eye is identified as the one for treating pains and infections of the eye as well as dizziness. In the middle of the forehead is a point for treating headaches, fevers and congestion of mucus and haemorrhage in the nasal passage. (Or 13922, f. 36)
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Massage in traditional Thai society

Not only massage treatises, but also illustrated Buddhist manuscripts and literary texts provide evidence that massage treatments were very popular and frequently used at all levels of Thai society. Buddhist manuscripts, such as the first example above, often contain genre scenes from the everyday life of Buddhist monks and lay people.

Lively descriptions of situations where pressure massage was carried out can be found in one of the most notable Thai literary works, Khun Chang Khun Phaen, a lengthy narrative of love and death which began in a folk tradition of oral performance (sēphā), but was adopted by the royal court and transformed into written text in the early 19th century. Quite often, it seems, pressure massage was the method of first choice in emergencies such as this (Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit (eds.), The tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen. Siam’s great folk epic of love and war. Chiang Mai, 2010, p. 236):

Her body was motionless. ‘Wanthong, oh Wanthong!’ No sound came in return. With body trembling, she shouted, ‘Servants! Come to help, quick!’ The servants all came up in a rush. They propped Wanthong up. They wept. They massaged both her legs. They pressed between her eyebrows to open her eyes. Siprajan cried out, ‘Softly, now! Why don’t you massage her jaw?’ She sat with a kaffir lime in her hand, staring vacantly. ‘Do everything you can, everything.’ Someone bit Wanthong’s big toe, and then she murmured.

Jana Igunma, Asia and African Studies
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08 May 2013

Mughal painting by Faizallah recently acquired by the British Library

In our recent exhibition and the accompanying publication Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, we featured paintings made in Delhi as well as at the Mughal province of Awadh during the 18th century. In March, we were able to add to our collection a splendid work by the artist Faizallah - a Mughal artist who relocated to Awadh - that dates to circa 1760. The artist's signature is discreetly written above the doorway on the left.

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A reluctant maiden being led to an eagerly awaiting prince by Faizallah, c.1760
British Library, Add.Or.5724
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From the mid-16th to the early 18th century, artistic workshops were established at the Mughal courts in the cities of Lahore, Delhi, Agra as well as Allahabad.  With imperial patronage waning during the 18th century and Nadir Shah's infamous sacking of Delhi in 1739, Mughal artists fled from the capital and appeared in places such as Awadh (cities of Lucknow and Faizabad), Bengal (Murshidabad and Patna) as well in the Punjab Hills. Unfortunately, there is very little written historical documentation on the movement of artists from Delhi to the provinces. Instead, art historians rely on the painterly styles and the provenance of paintings to ascertain both the location and date of production.

The artist of our painting, Faizallah, has a rather noteworthy biography. In the last few years, John Seyller (an art historian and professor at the University of Vermont) has been able to trace of the geneaology of Faizallah. Through inscriptions found on several paintings, we now know that Faizallah (our artist) is the son of Faqirallah Khan and the grandson of Muhammad Afzal. Both his father and grandfather were important Mughal artists who flourished in Delhi. His father, Faqirallah Khan later migrated with Faizallah to the province of Awadh by the 1760s. The British Library's collection now includes signed paintings by all three generations of this family.

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A visit to a shrine
Ascribed to Muhammad Faqirallah Khan, c. 1740

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Portrait of a lady at the jharoka
Ascribed to Muhammad Afzal, c. 1740
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Faizallah has received little scholarly attention, as compared to his contemporaries Mir Kalan Khan and Mihr Chand, who also relocated from Delhi to Awadh. This lovely painting demonstrates Faizallah's training in the imperial Mughal style, inherited from his father, before shifting to a rather nuanced and elaborate Lucknow style. As a rising star in the Awadhi art scene, Faizallah would radically transform simple terrace scenes into confections of multilayered 'idealized palaces surrounded by formal gardens that would recede to the horizon' (Welch 1985, 281). For an example of Faizallah's later work, see his study of a palace complex in the David Collection, Copenhagen.

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator

Further reading:

J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, British Library, 2012

Malini Roy, "Origins of the late Mughal painting tradition in Awadh" in Markel and Gude, India's Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow, Prestel, 2010

J. Seyller and K. Seitz, Mughal and Deccani Painting, Museum Reitberg, 2010

S.C. Welch, India: Art and Culture 1300-1900, New York, 1985