Lot 272 (The Winter Country House Sale, 5th December 2017)
‘Shah Jahan in the Time of Youth’ ascribed to Govardhan
India, Mughal, c.1630-1640
opaque watercolour with gold on paper, inscribed at lower left '…dhan' (the second half of [Govar]dhan), inner blue border, outer gold-flecked cream border, inscribed, in the lower border 'shabihi shah jahan dar ‘alam juwani ‘amal-i govardhan', 'a picture of Shah Jahan in the time of youth the work of Govardhan'; reverse with a letter dated 1846 relating to the provenance (see below)
miniature: 23.8 x, 14.2cm
visible area: 29.5 x 19.5cm
In the possession of an East Anglian collector, probably in or near Bury St. Edmunds, before 1846. A handwritten letter from R E Lofft dated 18th July 1846 describing the painting and giving, interpretations of the inscription is pasted to the reverse of the frame.
This is an important and rare painting of a Mughal prince seated with his consort in a palace chamber. There is a later inscription in the lower border describing the scene, as 'a picture of Shah Jahan in the time of youth…' and naming the artist as Govardhan, one of the leading Mughal royal painters of the first half of the seventeenth century. This attribution is apparently confirmed by a short inscription at the, lower left of the painted area which reads '…dhan' - the second half of the name Govardhan. It is not clear why only the final letters of the name survive in this inscription, but it may simply be due to localised loss of pigment and subsequent, retouching, of which there is evidence at the lower left corner.
The style of the painting is very close to Govardhan’s, in particular the subdued, brownish palette, the precisely drawn facial features of the two figures, the romance and palpable, intimacy of the scene, and the candid gaze that the princess directs outwards towards the viewer. There are several works signed by or attributed to Govardhan that provide comparisons, of which the following are the most relevant: a scene of a, prince (possibly Parviz) and his consort on a terrace, a scene of Jahangir celebrating Holi in the women’s quarters, and a scene of a gathering of princes in a garden (all three in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, see E Wright, Muraqqa’,, Imperial Mughal albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Alexandria VA, 2008, nos. 39, 41, 44, pp. 302-303, 310-311, 322-323); two ladies on a daybed (Seitz Collection, see J Seyller, 'Mughal and Deccani Paintings', Zurich, 2010, no. 11, p. 55); a, prince and consort (probably Jahangir and Nur Jahan) embracing on a terrace (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, see P Pal, 'Indian Painting', Los Angeles, 1993, no.71, pp. 259-261); a portrait of Jabha (see J Seyller, ‘Govardhan’, in Beach, Fischer, and Goswamy, 'Masters of Indian Painting 1100-1650', Artibus Asiae Suppl. 48-1, Zurich, 2011, p. 369, fig. 13).
In terms of the general style and subject matter, there are several further works of the 1630s and 1640s that relate to the present, painting, including a scene of Jahangir with Sultan Khurram and Nur Jahan (Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC., see M Beach, 'The Imperial Image, Paintings for the Mughal Court', Washington, 2012, no. 35, pp. 162-3); a series of illustrations in a, manuscript of the Khamsa of Nizami of c.1640 (Khalili Collection, London, see L. Leach, 'Paintings from India', London, 1998, no. 30, pp. 84, 100-101, 104); a scene of royal lovers on a terrace (see S C Welch, 'Imperial Mughal Painting', London,, 1978, pl. 35, pp. 108-109).
The painter Govardhan, one of the greatest imperial artists of the Mughal period, was son of the royal artist Bhawani Das and was born at court. He began work in the royal atelier at the end of Akbar’s reign in the, last years of the sixteenth century and continued through Jahangir’s reign and most of Shah Jahan’s, until about 1645. His mature works show a strong interest in portraiture and a penetrating psychological insight. His favourite themes were, scenes of holy men and intimate scenes of princes and their consorts, such as the present work. For further discussion of his style and illustrations of his work see M Beach, 'The Grand Mogul: Imperial Painting in India, 1600-1660', Williamstown, MA, 1978, pp.118-125; M Beach in Das et al., 'Mughal Masters: Further Studies', Marg, Mumbai, 1998, pp.134-145; L. Leach, 'Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library', Dublin, 1995, vol. II, pp. 1103-1104; A. Okada, 'Indian, Miniatures of the Mughal Court', New York, 1992, pp. 185-205; J Seyller in Beach, Fischer and Goswamy 2011, pp. 357-374.
Shah Jahan, Mughal emperor from 1628 to 1658, was a great patron of the arts. His most famous commission was the Taj Mahal,, built to house the tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631, but his reign also produced a flowering of other arts such as painting, textiles and jewellery. The lack of facial hair on the male figure in the present work indicates an, age of perhaps fourteen to sixteen years. If the figure does indeed represent Shah Jahan, who was born in 1592, the scene may represent his engagement to Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Banu Begam) which occurred in 1607-8 when he was fifteen (they were, married five years later in 1612). The style of the painting indicates a date of production of about 1630 to 1640, and it is conceivable that this painting was produced for Shah Jahan in the aftermath of Mumtaz Mahal’s death in 1631 as a, retrospective celebration of their loving union.
The hexagonal dais on which the royal couple sit in the present work is unusual, as is the shape of the carpet surrounding it, but it is interesting to note a Mughal carpet fragment of c.1650 of, similar shape in the Cincinnati Art Museum (see D Walker, 'Flowers Underfoot, Indian Carpets of the Mughal era', New York, 1997, figs. 101-103, pp. 104-105). The rectangular carpet in the background of the chamber in this painting can be compared, to several other mid-seventeenth century Mughal carpets (ibid, figs. 104, 111-114).
The provenance of this work is important and highly interesting. A letter written in a flowing early nineteenth century English hand is pasted to the back of the, frame. The letter is from Robert Emlyn Lofft to an acquaintance of the owner of the painting and is dated 18th July 1846. In it he describes the painting and gives his interpretation of the inscription in the lower border, as well as the opinion, of H H Wilson, a prominent Sanskrit scholar and the librarian at East India House in London. Frustratingly, what is not apparent is to whom the letter is written, nor who the owner was in 1846 - the letter is addressed simply 'Sir…'. The final, sentence of the letter: 'Hoping that these explanations may be of use to the owner of the picture, who I believe is desirous to dispose of it' indicates that it may have changed hands soon after 1846.
The transcription on the reverse reads:,
Troston near Ixworth 18th July 1846
I have the pleasure to send you a copy of a note from the Librarian at the East India House to whom I sent a copy of the inscription on the picture I saw at your house.
Library E I House [East India House], 17 July
The inscription on your picture signifies 'The Portrait of Shahjehan in the time of his youth, the work (or painting) of the painter Goverdhan.' The last word is the name of the Hindu Artist.
H. H. Wilson
My interpretation, was 'Portrait of Shahjehan in the world of youth, the work of Hour Dehan.' The Persian word which interpreted literally world, Mr Wilson has rendered by the word time by a freer translation, and the name of the Hindu artist he has written -, Goverdham - I do not doubt more correctly he being a Hindu scholar and my knowledge being confined to Persian. This is all the difference in our translations.
Shahjehan was one of the Moghul Emperors of Hindostan and reigned about the middle of the, 17th century.
By his order was built the splendid mausoleum, called the Tah-mehal, near Agra, for the sepulchre of his favourite Queen. It is considered one of the wonders of the world, but whether the lady in the Picture is intended for that, Queen, there is nothing in the inscription to denote. I consider the picture to be a good one of the kind. It may be of the date of that Emperor or of not much more recent date.
Hoping that these explanations may be of use to the owner of the, picture, who I believe is desirous to dispose of it.
Sir, Yours truly,
R E Lofft
Robert Emlyn Lofft (1782-1847) was born at Troston Hall near Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. He joined the Bengal Army in 1803 and transferred to the Native, Infantry in 1806. He served as an interpreter, Quartermaster, instructor and Brevet Captain and retired in 1820. He collected Arabic and Persian manuscripts, and after his death several were donated by his son to Cambridge University, Library.
Horace Hayman Wilson (1786-1860) was one of the most prominent early scholars on Indian language and literature. He went to India with the East India Company in 1808 having studied medicine in London and was appointed Secretary to the, Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1811, Boden professor of Sanskrit at Oxford in 1832 and librarian to the East India Company in 1836. In 1813 he published the first English translation of the Sanskrit text of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, and in 1819 he, completed an influential Sanskrit-English dictionary. He published many further translations from Sanskrit as well as works on history, Indian medicine and catalogues of Oriental manuscripts.
We are grateful to Marcus Fraser for writing this, catalogue entry.
Sold for £42,000
Condition Report Updated 28 November 2017:
Overall size approximately 20cm x 44cm x 30.7cm.
The original miniature has been executed on handmade laid paper, using a combination of watercolour, gouache and gold powder in a medium. The, inscription to the bottom left is executed in ink.
The miniature was received in a sealed frame, to the back of which was a handwritten letter from R.E. Lofft, dated 1846, giving a description of the miniature, together with an, interpretation of the inscription at its lower left hand corner. In order to remove the miniature from the frame it has been necessary to lift the letter from the outer margins of the frame, whilst still adhered to the backing board. The letter, is in an extremely degraded state, and requires specific conservation in order to remove it from the backing board, and to preserve it thereafter.
When released from the frame, it was discovered that the miniature was itself adhered to, the backing board, with a single paper interface between the two. As a result of the latter, it was possible to separate the two without damage to the original. It is probable that a secondary paper substrate is adhered to the miniature, but its, removal is not recommended due to the potential risk of damage to the pigment layers of the original.
The miniature is presented and adhered within a ruled, decorated and illuminated paper frame. There is some separation of the two as seen on the, verso.
The miniature itself is in a stable condition. There is general scuffing and abrasion of the pigments’ surface to a degree that is commensurate with its age, but in general there is no actual lifting of the layers. Splitting of the, original paper is however clearly seen along the lower edge of the miniature, at its interface with its decorated paper frame. Here there is clear loss to the pigment layers, with retouching apparent at both corners. Beyond these areas there, would appear to be no retouching within the image.
Minor creasing of the original paper is present across the miniature which further points to its adhesion onto a secondary paper backing. Size overall 20.4 x 30.7cm
Condition Report by Helen, Loveday November 2017
Not viewed out of the frame.
We highly recommend viewing in person.
Tears/losses to the right hand corner.
There are cracks to the thicker areas of paint, minor rippling of the paper.
Staining throughout the edge.
The, back inscription has area of loss where the hook has worn it off.
Staining down left side, tears again to both sides.