Mughal Court Culture Flourishes

Upon his accession to the throne in 1605, Emperor Jahāngīr set out to refine Mughal court culture through his patronage of the luxury arts and architecture. He also developed a royal painting workshop, called the Jahāngīr school.

Summary of Event

Upon the death of Mughal emperor Akbar Akbar (Mughal emperor) in 1605, his son Jahāngīr Jahāngīr assumed the imperial throne. During his twenty-two-year reign, Emperor Jahāngīr waged few military campaigns. Residing in the largely consolidated empire established by his father, Jahāngīr and his influential wife, Nūr Jahān Nūr Jahān , refined the visual culture of the Mughal court. Art patronage;Mughal Empire
[kw]Mughal Court Culture Flourishes (1605-1627)
Cultural and intellectual history;1605-1627: Mughal Court Culture Flourishes[0370]
Art;1605-1627: Mughal Court Culture Flourishes[0370]
Architecture;1605-1627: Mughal Court Culture Flourishes[0370]
Government and politics;1605-1627: Mughal Court Culture Flourishes[0370]
India;1605-1627: Mughal Court Culture Flourishes[0370]
Mughal Empire

Although Jahāngīr patronized the construction of many buildings, he is best known for being a connoisseur of painting and for his consolidation of artists at the Mughal painting Painting;Mughal Empire workshop, devoted to the production of books and the paintings that illustrated them. With his support, artists from both Persian and Indian backgrounds continued to flourish at the Mughal court, becoming increasingly recognized for their distinct individual styles. A detailed record of Jahāngīr’s reign remains in his own memoirs, the Jahāngīrnāmah (The Jahangirnama
Jahangirnama, The (Jahāngīr) , 1999), which documents contemporary political events and personal observations, along with accounts of the ruler’s active involvement in courtly painting.

As Akbar lay dying in 1605, his heir was brought to his side and invested with a turban, robes, and the emperor’s own dagger. A week after Akbar’s death, during his accession ceremony at theĀgra fort, the prince mounted the emperor’s throne, placed the turban on his own head, and accepted the royal title Jahāngīr (world conqueror). These two events were recorded in contemporary court chronicles, including Jahāngīr’s memoirs, where they served to underscore the transfer of official imperial power. Most significantly for modern times, the episodes reveal the critical role played by luxury objects and court ceremonial in bestowing the right to rule.

Like Mughal emperors before him, Jahāngīr used artistic patronage to proclaim legitimacy by reference to his family’s impressive dynastic lineage—a practice that linked Mughal court culture to the power and artistic patronage of the central Asian ruler Tamerlane (or Timur; r. 1370-1405) and his descendants. Unlike his predecessors, however, Jahāngīr turned away from grand-scale public building projects, urban foundations, and extravagantly illustrated dynastic histories. His patronage was concentrated instead on more personal architectural sites, such as gardens, tombs, and hunting pavilions, and on the enrichment of Mughal court culture, witnessed most particularly in his refinement of the imperial painting workshop.

After his accession, Jahāngīr established his imperial center at his father’s former capital city ofĀgra, although the royal encampment often shifted for extended periods of time to temporary headquarters such as Kabul, Lahore, Ajmer, and Mandu. During the hot season, Jahāngīr made frequent trips to northern sites such as Kashmir, where he patronized formal gardens and other structures. His most imposing architectural Architecture;Mughal Empire project was the tomb built for Akbar at Sikandra (1605-1614), nearĀgra. In keeping with Mughal precedent, Akbar’s tomb is set at the center of a vast, formally planned garden. The cross-axial watercourses that divide the site’s walled garden follow a well-established type known as a char bagh (four-fold garden), an Iranian plan long associated with paradisal imagery. Though the tomb’s setting and its highly decorated gateway are modeled on Mughal prototypes, its pyramidal arrangement of five stories represents a sharp deviation from earlier dynastic tombs.

Jahāngīr’s patronage of painting, like his patronage of architecture, benefited from the achievements of his forebears while forging new artistic directions. At the onset of his rule, Jahāngīr inherited from his father a vibrant painting workshop. Under Jahāngīr’s grandfather, Emperor Humāyūn (r. 1530-1540 and 1555-1556), the practice of painting was consolidated within a courtly workshop, or kitabkhana (book house), an institution established under the Mughal and Timurid dynasties to provide a space for the collection and production of books. During the reigns of both Humāyūn and Akbar, Persian painters and calligraphers were brought into the workshop, where Iranian styles and techniques quickly commingled with indigenous Indian painting.

The court of the Mughal Empire was centered at the magnificent fort in Āgra.

(George L. Shuman)

Whereas the illustration of grand state-sponsored histories had dominated production during Akbar’s reign, Jahāngīr tended to commission smaller books with very fine illustrations, often by a single artist. He also embraced portraits and other single-folio paintings, which were often gathered in albums alongside specimens of calligraphy, reviving a practice of collecting that had been popular in Timurid central Asia. In keeping with what appears to have been a trend toward specialization during Jahāngīr’s reign, several artists in his workshop specialized in portraiture. The seventeenth century artists Manohar Manohar and Bishandās Bishandās , among others, were renowned for producing studies of courtiers, rulers, and holy men that emphasized individual physiognomic details. The fashion for naturalism was also expressed in meticulous animal studies and botanical illustrations, both of which thrived at Jahāngīr’s court.

Jahāngīr is often remembered for his passions—as a connoisseur of jewels, a hunter, and a great consumer of wine and opium. Yet, his memoirs suggest that he was also a keen observer of the world around him, and, certainly, the cultivation of individual masters such as Manṣūr Manṣūr (seventeenth century), who specialized in illustrations of the natural world, was due to the emperor’s personal interests. By his own account, Jahāngīr was heavily involved in the activities of his painting workshop, and he claimed the ability to identify the artist responsible for a detail as small as an eye or eyebrow in any painting brought before him.

While many of the paintings produced for Jahāngīr seem to have suited his personal whims, others were clearly constructed as political statements, intended to present the ruler as a commanding and venerable figure. Abū al-Ḥasan Abū al-Ḥasan , the son of the Persian painter Āqā Rezā (sixteenth-seventeenth century), produced a series of allegorical paintings of the emperor that owe more to fantasy than to reality. A renowned example presents Jahāngīr embracing a frail version of the Ṣafavid shah ՙAbbās the Great ՙAbbās I the Great (r. 1587-1629), with whom he fought repeatedly over Qandahār in Afghanistan. Contrary to the historical record, Jahāngīr’s rival is shown in a gesture of submission, while the two stand upon a globe bearing the images of a lamb and lion lying together, a symbol of peaceful resolution. In almost diametric opposition to the realism that typifies nature studies commissioned by the emperor, allegorical paintings produced in his reign present figures in a purely symbolic context, an innovation that was inspired by English paintings brought to India by ambassadors and other visitors.

Jahāngīr’s reign is marked not only by his own character but also by the power of his wife, Mihr-un-Nisā, whom he married in 1611. Mihr-un-Nisā was the daughter of a high-ranking Persian nobleman at his court, and she quickly became Jahāngīr’s favored wife. She was given the title Nūr Jahān (light of the world). A talented clothing and textile designer, inventor of perfume, poet, and patron of architecture, Nūr Jahān had a notable impact on Mughal culture. She was also given unprecedented influence over state policies. She followed in her father’s footsteps and was appointed the state’s finance minister, and she even had coins minted in her name—a symbol of royal prerogative in Islamic kingdoms. By 1622, poor health and an addiction to wine and opium had rendered Jahāngīr incapable of governing, and Nūr Jahān stepped in to maintain control of the empire until her husband’s death in 1627, when Jahāngīr’s heir, Shah Jahan Shah Jahan , ascended the throne.


While Jahāngīr made few territorial gains during his reign, the prosperity he inherited at his father’s death allowed the emperor to focus on refining his court’s cultural achievements. As a connoisseur and patron, Jahāngīr brought his innate interest in the natural world to bear on artistic production, continuing his father’s enthusiastic support of painters within the royal workshop. Artists’ signatures and the emperor’s own written accounts reveal the identities of court-sponsored painters. Alongside the influx of images imported from European lands, this mix of Persian and Indian artists provided the workshop with sources of new innovation. In keeping with the experimentations of Akbar’s reign, Jahāngīr’s workshop continued to formulate a distinctive synthetic idiom, and in the process created many of the artistic masterpieces of the Mughal era.

Further Reading

  • Asher, Catherine B. Architecture of Mughal India. New Cambridge History of India 1. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. This thorough study organized by regnal eras contains a chapter on Jahāngīr’s architectural patronage. Includes a glossary, maps, plates, site plans, and a series of interpretive bibliographical essays.
  • Beach, Milo Cleveland. “Jahāngīr’s Jahāngīr-Nama.” In The Powers of Art: Patronage in Indian Culture, edited by Barbara Stoler Miller. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Beach discusses the role of painted illustrations in Jahāngīr’s memoirs.
  • Crowe, Sylvia, et al. The Gardens of Mughal India. London: Thames & Hudson, 1972. This work contains documentation and analysis of Jahāngīr’s garden projects. Includes illustrations, maps, and plans.
  • Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. Cambridge History of India 1. Reprint. New Delhi, India: Foundation Books, 1995. An analysis of Mughal institutions, military organization, ideologies, and cultural policies from the reign of Bābur through the accession of Muhammad Shah. Includes a glossary, maps, and a bibliographic essay.
  • Stronge, Susan. Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book, 1560-1660. London: V & A Publications, 2002. Stronge discusses painting under emperors Akbar, Jahāngīr, and Shah Jahan. Includes color plates.
  • Thackston, Wheeler M., trans. and ed. The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. The best translation, including annotations, of Jahāngīr’s personal memoirs. Illustrated with plates showing contemporary paintings and objects.

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i><br />

ՙAbbās the Great; Aurangzeb; Jahāngīr; Shah Jahan. Mughal Empire