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The Young Emperor Akbar Arrests the Insolent Shah Abu’l-Maali, page from a manuscript of the Akbarnama – Designed by Basawan, painted by Shankar

Maharana Bhim Singh in Procession - attributed to Ghasi

The Young Emperor Akbar Arrests the Insolent Shah Abu’l-Maali, page from a manuscript of the Akbarnama – Designed by Basawan, painted by Shankar

This is a page from the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar), a lavishly illustrated manuscript commissioned by the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) to document the history of his rule. The scene depicts the emperor at age thirteen, three days after his accession. Seated on a gold throne placed on a carpeted platform, Akbar watches as his late father’s favorite is arrested for his insolent behavior toward the young emperor. The setting—a tented encampment pitched in a garden—is significant, for Akbar spent much of his reign on the move. Through his active campaigning and strong administrative skills, he greatly expanded the Mughal Empire, consolidating and securing it for his successors. In addition, he was a great patron of the arts, initiating a new style of painting and establishing a vast atelier and library.

One of the new themes the emperor encouraged was the painting of historical manuscripts such as the Akbarnama. Commissioned in 1589, it was written by court historian and biographer Abu’l Fazl between 1590 and 1596. Simultaneously, a workshop of about fifty artists illustrated the text. Basawan, the designer of this painting, whose signature appears in the lower margin in red, was one of the studio’s leading painters. He was particularly skilled in portraiture and is known to have painted the faces of the young emperor and the two other figures in front of him: the regent Bairam Khan, who is standing, and the disgraced Shah Abu’l-Ma’ali, who crouches in a red robe. He also painted some of the nearby scenery, which attracted his interest; each painting was collaborative work and could take up to a month to complete.

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