Portrait of a kneeling holy man, from the Prince Salim Album

Portrait of a kneeling holy man, from the Prince Salim Album

c. 1556–60; border c. 1602

attributed to Mir Sayyid Ali

(Persian, active in India, 1555–1580)

Opaque watercolor with gold on paper, laid down on an album page with cream borders decorated with gold flowers and geometric motifs

Gift in honor of Madeline Neves Clapp; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection 2013.295

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Did you know?

In this sensitive portrayal of a charlatan holy man, the eyes are pale and empty.

Description

One of the few surviving works that appear to have been made by an artist brought from Iran by Akbar’s father, Humayun, shortly after his arrival in Mughal India, this page was mounted into the Prince Salim Album in his breakaway court in Allahabad. The flowing lyrical contour lines, penetrating expression, and soft yet wiry texture of the beard reveal the hand of a master. The verse written above and below the painting is a quotation from a poetic sermon of the Persian author Sana’i, who lived about 1100: If it were greed that led you to acquire learning, then be afraid, For at night, a thief with a torch can take away the choicest goods! The calligraphy suggests that the kneeling figure is a charlatan holy man who wears the blue robe of a Sufi mystic and acts with humility and piety for monetary gain rather than sincerity of devotion.

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