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A Legacy Lives On


Nuzhat Kazmi

WONDERS OF NATURE: USTAD MANSUR AT THE MUGHAL COURT
By Asok Kumar Das
Marg, Mumbai, 2013, Rs. 2800.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 2 February 2014

Asok Kumar Das’s passion for Mughal art never fails to awe us and his ventures in this arena never ceases to enrich our understanding of Mughal art and inevitably our perception of our own history and culture. Written with inimitable depth and lucidity, Asok Das’s most recent book, Wonders of Nature: Ustad Mansur At the Mughal Court, is a treasure, with values of research, analysis, visuals and designing all brought together in a hard binding.   Ustad Mansur is perhaps the first Indian artist who has the distinction of being celebrated with great respect by his patron, historicized in the numerous imperial commissions, now in various collections all over the world. Mansur’s patron, Emperor Jahangir, adored him to a point where he had no hesitation in conferring a rare title of Nadir ul-‘Asr on him, which is occasionally cited on the painted folio itself. The other artist who too shared this distinction of receiving another rare accolade for an artist at the Mughal court was Ustad Abul Hasan, whose title was Nadir ul’ Zaman. Abul Hasan, exceptional in his artistic production, was however, much younger to Ustad Mansur (p. 12).   Mansur’s contribution to Mughal painting has been largely in the area of fauna and flora. Extremely naturalistic in its language, the realism that is infused in Mughal painting is indeed its defining trait. This visual realism is usually rendered within a format that has come to be addressed as miniature painting. However, new evidences are surfacing that throw light on the practice within the Mughal atelier milieu where life-size works were evidently undertaken and successfully produced by artists and in indigenous technique that remained most of the time gauche, in which water based pigments are sourced from nature, both organic and inorganic.   Das gives us a comprehensive history of the Mughal dynasty and its long and active interest in art and culture, which included apart from the pre-eminently visible architectural monuments to manuscript and album painting, discreet and largely private.Touching on Mansur’s life and art, the author writes,   Inspite of his pre-eminence as a painter and illuminator of manuscripts, no biographical information about Mansur is known. He was active from the early 1590s in the Mughal painting atelier of Emperor Akbar, working on illustrations for Baburnama and Akbarnama manuscripts, after which he was employed by the emperor’s son, Prince Salim, later Emperor Jahangir. It ...


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