called a great number of artists to his court. Going by their names, the
majority of these seemed to be Hindu. Thus Akbar became the real founder
of the Mughal school of painting. Akbar gave employment to many artists. A
hundred and fifty or so are known since the illustrations in the manuscripts
produced during Akbar’s reign bear the names of the artists.
During Akbar’s reign two or more artists worked together, but not more
than four or five. One made the tarrah (sketch), another the ami (painting).
Occasionally a third did the chira numa (portrait) and very rarely a fourth
made the sural (figure drawing). A few inscriptions name a fifth artist who
undertook the rangamezi (colouring). Such a system suggests that Mughal
painting was a craft more than a fine art.
The chief painters were Mir Sayyid Ali, Abd-al-Samad (already in the
service of Humayun) and Baswan, a Hindu. Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd-al-
Samad drilled the craftsmen in all the technical details of Persian miniatures.
Many Indians such as Baswan, Miskina and Daswant attained great positions
as court artists and Abul Fazl in his Ain-i- Akbari (biography of Akbar)
bestows high praise on them. Baswan is mentioned in twelve of the best
miniatures illustrating the Razm Namah (Mahabharala), which originally
contained a hun- dred and sixty-nine full page illustrations. In this and the
Persian version of the Ramayana, Indian artists could introduce some of their
cherished figure types and details of landscape.
Under the supervision of Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd-al-Samad the imperial
atelier of painters and calligraphers took shape. Their first endeavour was to
complete the pictures for the earliest Mughal illustrated manuscript, the
Dastan-i-Amir Hamza. Begun in 1550 under Humayun, it took twenty-five
years to finish. All of the 1375 paintings, however, show consistency in style
because Mir Sayyid Ali had from the start planned out the whole work in the
Safavid style, though other artists, either Persian or Indian, assisted him in the
To please aristocratic tastes, the artists of Akbar’s atelier illustrated
classical Persian literature such as Nizami’s Khamsa, Sadi’s Gulistan (mortal
tales), Hafiz’s Diwan and Jami’s Baharistan.
The Hamza Namah series, illustrating a popular romance interwoven with
many legends of Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, shows the difference between
the work of Mir Sayyid Ali, who maintained the Persian Safavid conventions,