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

c. 1556–60; border c. 1602
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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.
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

Mir Sayyid Ali

(Persian, active in India, 1555–1580)
Mughal India, court of Akbar (reigned 1556–1605)

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