Hamzanama The Master Spy Escapes Circa 1570

Hamzanama The Master Spy Escapes Circa 1570
Hamzanama The Master Spy Escapes Circa 1570
Hamzanama The Master Spy Escapes Circa 1570
Country of Origin: Kabul or Mughal India
Date of Origin Circa 1570
Comments: Call me crazy but I think this work was started in Kabul in the reign of Humayan. I wrote about this work before in The Master Spy Escapes c. 1562 - 1577
Hamzanama The Master Spy Escapes Circa 1570
A leaf from the vast Qissa-I Amir Hamza or Hamzanama, produced for the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r.1556-1605). Akbar was a supreme patron of the arts, and the commissioning of the Hamzanama was the first great artistic undertaking of his reign. The Hamzanama is the principal cornerstone of early Mughal painting and one of the most innovative of all Islamic manuscripts. Its enormous size and startling compositions were quite without precedent and were never attempted again. The manuscript is a romance of the mythical adventures of Amir Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, who is transformed by the tale into a chivalric hero who travels the world fighting infidels and dragons. Although the legends of Amir Hamza go back at least to the eleventh century, Akbar's Hamzanama represents a unique form of the text, derived as it was from an oral tradition - in this version it was possibly never finished and remains unpublished.

Work on the manuscript had almost certainly begun by 1564, since the chronicler Abu'l Fazl describes part of the text being read out to Akbar during an elephant hunt near Narwar in that year (Abu'l-Fazl, 1907-39, II, p.343). The Hamzanama is said to have taken fifteen years to complete. It was described as being in twelve vast unsewn volumes, painted on cotton, with a total of some fourteen hundred paintings with text on their versos, probably (though scholarly opinion is divided on this point) so that they could be held up by the court reader before Akbar and recited from the back. Fifty artists are said to have worked on the illustrations. Akbar's father Humayun had summoned to India the greatest book illuminators of Persia, including Mir Sayyid 'Ali and 'Abd al-Samad, who had both worked on the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (The 'Houghton Shahnama', of which four leaves were sold in these rooms, 23rd April 1996, lots 11-14), and both artists were employed to supervise the Hamzanama project.

The Hamzanama was recorded as being in the library of Akbar at the end of his life, and it was inherited by Jahangir (1605-1628) and Shah Jahan (1628-1659). It probably remained intact in the royal palace at Delhi until the Mughal collections were looted during Nadir Shah's sack of the city in 1739 when many leaves of the book were taken back to Persia and almost all faces depicted in the Hamzanama were deliberately smudged.