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From 'British Library/Chester Beatty' Akbarnama, mounted on a leaf from the Farhang-i Jahangiri of 1608

April 26, 2023
Mirza Firuz Shah
Akbar 1556–1605



Title: An illustration from the 'British Library/Chester Beatty' Akbarnama, mounted on a leaf from the Farhang-i Jahangiri of 1608: 

A Mughal army from the Punjab defeats the army of Gakhars and captures Sultan Adam, the painting attributed to Sur Das Gujarati, India, Mughal, the painting circa 1602-03.

Lot Details


gouache heightened with gold on paper, inscribed at upper right with 1 line in Persian in black nasta'liq script, within a narrow orange border comprising a gold scrolling floral vine, ruled in colours and gold, verso with 35 lines of Persian text in red and black nasta'liq script from the Farhang-i Jahangiri of Jamal al-din Husain Inju, within a narrow blue floral border, the margins decorated in gold with cloud bands, floral vines, birds and animal heads

painting: 22.5 by 12.1cm;

leaf: 34 by 21.6cm.

Condition Report

Provenance John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960) and Abigail Greene Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948). Professor William Kelly Simpson (1928-2017) and Marilyn Ellen Milton Simpson (1931-1980). Christie's London, 26 October 2017, lot 183. 

Catalogue Note The present painting depicts Kamal Khan defeating the armies of Sultan Adam and his son, Lashkari. Kamal Khan was the son of Shir Khan, the older brother of Sultan Adam and the chief of the Gakhars, a hill tribe. The Gakhars lived on the land between the rivers Beas and Indus in north-west India. 

After Shir Shah died, Kamal Khan was imprisoned in Gwalior and Sultan Adam became the chief of the tribe. From prison Kamal Khan sent a petition to the Mughal Emperor Akbar who ordered Sultan Adam to divide the Gakhar lands with his nephew. When Adam refused, troops were sent on Akbar’s command to imprison him. 

The Mughal Emperor Akbar (r.1558-1605) commissioned his prime minister, Abu’l Fazl, to write an account of his reign in 1589. 

This text, known as the Akbarnama (The Book of Akbar) was completed nine years later and presented to the Emperor in 1598. There are two known illustrated version of the Akbarnama which date from Akbar’s reign. The first version dated to circa 1590-95 is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. A slightly later version was written by the famous calligrapher, Maulana Muhammad Husain Kashmiri, also known as Zarrin Qalam.

This second copy is now divided between the British Library in London and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, hence the present-day name of the manuscript. The British Library holds Volume I, with 163 folios and 39 paintings, which provides an account of the history of the Mughals, including Akbar’s childhood, up to the events related to the death of his father Humayun in 1556. The Chester Beatty Library holds Volume II and a part of Volume III comprising 256 folios with 61 paintings. These account for Akbar’s reign from 1556 to 1576. He ruled until 1605. It is uncertain if the final section of Akbar’s reign is missing or was never completed in the second version (Wright 2008, p.254). The Chester Beatty Library also has 7 additional folios which originally belonged to Volume I, mounted on folios from the Farhang-i Jahangiri (see Leach 1995, Vol.I, pp.294-300, no.2.154-2.160). 

Although usually dated to 1602-03, art historians have variously dated the ‘Second’ Akbarnama to either the last years of the sixteenth century or the beginning of the seventeenth century. This is based on the reading of two small inscriptions which give the regnal year dates of Akbar’s reign. One appears on a folio in the British Library and the other on a folio in the Chester Beatty Library. A reading that gave a date of 1596-97 was proposed by John Seyller in 1987 (Seyller 1987, pp.247-277). This late sixteenth century dating by Seyller was refuted by Leach in 1995 (Leach 1995, Vol.I, p.240). 

For a more recent discussion on the date of this manuscript, see Losty and Roy, 2012, pp.58-70). 51 illustrations were removed from Volumes II and III of the second version before they were purchased by Chester Beatty. Our painting is one of these illustrations. It is the left half of a double-page composition in the original manuscript. The right half (f.84b, painting no.85) is in the Chester Beatty Library (ibid., no.2.116, pp.260-1). It depicts Akbar’s armies fighting the Gakhars in 1563 and, like our painting, is also attributed to the Mughal artist Sur Das. Sur Das ‘Gujarati’ was a prolific artist at the imperial Mughal atelier between 1595 and 1605. His works are included in the Khamsa of Nizami of 1596 which is now in the British Library; the Khamsa of Dihlavi of 1598 distributed between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum, and the Gulistan of Sa’di in the Cincinnati Museum of Art. 

For a brief discussion on Sur Das and other works attributed to him, see Leach 1995, Vol.II, pp.1117-8. Another illustration from the ‘British Library/ Chester Beatty' Akbarnama depicting a battle scene outside a walled fortress, also attributed to Sur Das, was recently sold in these rooms, 1 May 2019, lot 85. For an illustration from the ‘First’ Baburnama of 1589 similarly mounted on a leaf from the Farhang-i Jahangiri, and for a brief discussion on the Farhang-i Jahangiri manuscript, see lot 139 in the present sale.

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Ismail Mazari

average rating is null out of 5

Very good information.


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