Shah Abbas & Mughal Ambassador Khan Alam

Shah Abbas and Mughal ambassador Khan Alam in 1618, Persia, Isfahan

Shah Abbas and Mughal ambassador Khan Alam in 1618, Persia, Isfahan
Shah Abbas and Mughal ambassador Khan Alam in 1618, Persia, Isfahan
miniature 22 by 10.9cm.
album leaf 33.7 by 22.7cm.
gouache with gold on paper, laid down on an album leaf, inner border of small abstract motifs in gold, outer border with leafy scrolls in white, the reverse with seven lines of naskhi script in two sizes, borders and illuminated panels with marbled and gilt decoration, framed
When the Persian ambassador to the Mughal court, Yadgar Ali, was returning to Iran in 1613, the emperor Jahangir chose Khan Alam to accompany him as Mughal ambassador to the court of Shah Abbas I. Such embassies were not unusual in Persia where the Shah had already received ambassadors from Spain, Muscovy, and Golconda. Jahangir recorded in his memoirs how he gave lavish presents to Yadgar Ali and a jewelled dagger to Khan Alam. The presents sent to Shah Abbas were on a grand scale, including ten elephants, but the mission is noted in art circles for the fact that Jahangir also sent an artist to Persia with Khan Alam:

`At the time when I sent Khan Alam to Persia, I had sent with him a painter of the name of Bishan Das, who was unequalled in his age for taking likenesses, to take the portraits of the Shah and the chief men of his State, and bring them. He had drawn the likenesses of most of them, and especially he had taken that of my brother the Shah exceedingly well, so that when I showed it to any of his servants, they said it was exceedingly well drawn.' (Jahangir, II, 116-117).

Two paintings of the meeting of Khan Alam with Shah Abbas by Bishan Das have survived and a number of later Indian versions and copies are recorded (see Marg 1998, vol.49, no.4, pp.124-8, figs.11 and 12). The contemporary Persian artist, Riza-i Abbasi, then chief court painter, is also thought to have been commissioned to record the meeting. However, unfortunately no original version by this artist is known to have survived. The earliest known work by Riza to depict this event is dated 1042/1633, fourteen years after the meeting took place. Based on this work it is thought that the Persian artist, unlike Bishan Das, had chosen to depict the two men standing (Robinson 1972). Interestingly, the present depiction of Shah Abbas and Khan Alam is early and yet its composition does not follow Riza's work but rather the Indian version of Bishan Das where the two rulers are seated. Here, the artist adds one attendant standing in the background of the two seated figures. This early Persian version of the meeting was in turn to be influential as shown by two 17th century copies recorded in Grube and Sims, 1995, pl.IV, b and c.