Posted on: 29 October 2012

Equestrian Portrait of the Emperor Shah Jahan from the Kevorkian Album
early 19th century

Reign of Shah Jahan
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H: 26.8 W: 18.1 cm

Shah Jahan, the third son of Jahangir, was reputed to be the wealthiest of all Mughal emperors and surrounded himself with opulent and sumptuous buildings. He was also the most ambitious of Jahangir's sons; he deposed the rightful heir to the throne and revolted against his father, causing considerable internal turmoil. Shah Jahan himself faced the rivalry of his son, Awrangzib, who deposed in father in 1658 and had him imprisoned for eight years at Agra, where he died.

Shan Jahan was an ardent builder; he restored Agra which was founded by Akbar, his grandfather, and constructed a new city called Shahjahanabad where he spent most of his time. He is probably best remembered for the construction of the Taj Mahal, the splendid mausoleum commemorating his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631 while giving birth to their fourteenth child.

The equestrian portrait of Shah Jahan depicts the Emperor in full majesty, attired in a dazzling outfit and bedecked with jewels. He strides serenely on a magnificent horse which is decorated with equal splendor. The city in the background most likely represents his newly-founded capital, situated on the shores of the Jumma River, a few miles north of Agra.

The angels above herald his coming and offer him symbols of royalty: a jeweled garland, a crown and a sword wrapped in brocade.

The painting is signed by Govardhan, who was previously employed by Jahangir. This artist specialized in portraiture and represented the princes and nobles of the court as well as the more humble members of the society, such a musicians, Mullahs (Muslim theologians) and ascetics.

Copyright © 2012 Smithsonian Institution

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Beautiful! When I ride angels sing to me too.