Akhbar i-Barmakyan Gifts at the Gate

Akhbar i-Barmakyan Gifts at the Gate, India, Mughal, Circa 1595-1600

Akhbar i-Barmakyan Gifts at the Gate, India, Mughal, Circa 1595-1600
Akhbar i-Barmakyan Gifts at the Gate, India, Mughal, Circa 1595-1600
Country of Origin: Mughal India
Date of Origin CIRCA 1595-1600
The following miniature is one of a series dating from a late sixteenth-century Mughal manuscript entitled Akhbar-i Barmakiyan, a work believed to have been written in the 10th/11th centuries A.D. and translated from Arabic into Persian by the fourteenth-century translator Ziya ud-Din Barani. The work concerns the history of the Barmakid dynasty, and chronicles "the generosity and clerical efficacy" of a family that rose to considerable power during the early years of the Abbasid Caliphate.

It is largely due to the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s interest in instructive histories that the Akhbar-I Barmikyan was illustrated. Although the artists that worked on the manuscript are thought not to have been the major artists in Akbar’s atelier it is likely to have been made for the royal library by the artists working in the taswir khaneh. It is striking that the artists have attempted to evoke an 'Arab' atmosphere by keeping certain features such as the figures' clothing as close to an 'Arab' type as possible. This page is an exceptional illustration from the manuscript with its unusually vigorous and engaging composition.

16 illustrated leaves from this manuscript were sold in these rooms, 1st July 1969, lots 83-98. Two others were in the Warren Hastings Album (subsequently Phillipps MS.14170) sold 26th November, 1968 lots 376 and 377. Two illustrated leaves were sold in our New York rooms 15-16 April 1985, lot 445, and 21-22 March 1990, lot 8, the latter formerly in the collection of Ed. Binney, 3rd. Leaves from this manuscript are found in the collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan as published in Welch and Welch, 1982 and Canby 1998.

The history of the barmakids:

Khalid bin Barmak, who was born in A.H. 87/A.D. 705, was believed to be the son of an Arab commander. His mother, a Persian slave girl, had been taken into the harem after the seizure of Balkh by the Arab armies, and the boy was later to be integrated into the Abbasid court and "adopted" by the Caliphal family. Whether or not this is historical fact, it is recognised that royal favour at the Abbasid court was often expressed in the form of "adoption" into the Abbasid household. This was the true path to power and prestige regardless of racial origins, and the Barmecide family is a peerless example of the tradition.

Khalid bin Barmak played an important role in the formation of the Abbasid Empire. He is chronicled in The History of al-Tabari rallying together the disparate Shi’a groups of Iran, fostering support for the revolutionary movement and leading armies into battle alongside the legendary commanders of the age. Later, once Abbasid power was firmly established, Khalid was to play a key role in the government of the Empire. In the year A.H. 132/A.D. 749 he was made chief of the Landtax Bureau, remaining in that position for at least three years. He was directly involved in the founding of Baghdad, and is famous for protesting against the demolition of Meda'in to provide building materials for the new capital city. He is reputed to have said, "The great Iwan of the Chosroes is one of the wonders of the world", to which the Caliph al-Mansur is reputed to have replied, "It is naught but thine old love for the Persians!" (Muir 1984, p.455).

It was after the founding of the city of Baghdad that Khalid al-Barmaki became the "righthand man" of the Caliph. He was promoted to Governor of Mosul, the previous commander being deliberately deposed by al-Mansur to make way for al-Barmaki. Khalid was later entrusted with the protection of the young Harun al-Rashid. At Harun's first campaign to the Bosphorus in A.H 156/A.D. 772, it was Khalid al-Barmaki who accompanied the youthful prince.

Harun al Rashid’s continued reliance upon the Barmaki family would eventually lead to their downfall, but for many years Khalid’s heirs basked in the glory of the Caliph's favour. Khalid’s son Yahya was tutor to the young Prince Harun, whilst his grandson al-Fadhl was even suckled simultaneously with Harun by the Caliph’s consort. Later Yahya was to be made wazir, a position he retained for seventeen years, a period sometimes referred to as "the reign of the Barmakids." Even the office of the seal was soon under Yahya’s control. In the year A.H. 176/A.D. 792, al-Fadhl, who also proved to be a consummate politician, was made governor of Khurasan whilst his brother Dja’far was made governor of the Western provinces. Thus control of the vast Abbasid Empire was effectively divided between the two Barmakid brothers.

The rapid collapse of Barmakid authority astonished their contemporaries, and no satisfactory explanation has been suggested for their fall from grace and subsequent execution. It is highly likely, however, that the extent of their power troubled the Caliph who may have come to resent and fear their influence.
Akhbar i-Barmakyan Gifts at the Gate, India, Mughal, Circa 1595-1600