Art in the Mughal Era

The Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent traces its beginnings when the Central Asian Turkic Prince Babur captured Kabul and used it as a launchpad to conquer India. Babur’s descendants Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurungzeb further expanded the sphere of control of the mighty Mughal Dynasty. The Mughals were enthusiastic patrons of the art. Their unique Turkic styles mixed with diverse Indic, Persian and Islamic influences that populated their domains, and the artistic spirit of the subcontinent flourished under them.

Mughal Art presents itself most profoundly in the paintings and the architecture that they left behind. The primary features of the Mughal architecture are their bulbous domes guarded by tall, slender minarets and cupolas on all four corners. The interior of their palaces, forts, mosques, and mausoleums often features extravagant gardens, large halls, behemoth vaulted gateways—adorned throughout with delicate ornamentation. While each era featured slightly different approaches, these features dominated the massive structures that the Mughals left behind. These buildings still constitute essential national treasures for both Pakistan and India. The most prominent Mughal buildings are the Badshahi Mosque and the Royal Fort in Lahore, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and the Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi.

Red Fort, Delhi
The Royal Fort, Lahore
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi
Badhshahi Mosque, Lahore
Taj Mahal, Agra

Mughal Painting and Portraiture is another seminal legacy of Mughal art. Mughal Paintings were like their architecture, a mix of Turkic, Persian, Islamic, and Indic influences. Mughal paintings are usually small in size, so they are mostly referred to as “miniature paintings.” These paintings were symbols of dynastic might and did not feature features of daily Indian life but were surrounded by court life. During the region of Akbar, Mughal painting also started to feature themes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. And under Jehangir’s patronage, Mughal painting began to feature more and more of nature. The stylistic features of these paintings are that they are usually brightly colored and highly detailed. Their small size can mostly be attributed to the fact that most of them illustrate manuscripts and artbooks. Some of the details in these paintings are so precise that they have been painted using brushes made of a single hair.

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