Emperor Aurangzeb in a Shaft of Light with later floral border from The St. Petersburg Album
Reign of Emperor Aurangzeb
Opaque watercolor on paper with gold
H: 47.2 W: 32.2 cm
The garden setting may be a reference to Agharabad (later called Shalimar), an imperial garden eight miles northwest of Delhi which contained some fine imperial buildings. It was in this garden that Aurangzeb declared himself emperor and celebrated his first coronation (21 July 1658). This painting appears to depict the response of heaven to Aurangzeb's declaration. It can be seen as Aurangzeb's apotheosis, and the borrowed elements copied from a European religious print only helped the artist to heighten the otherworldly perspective.
Aurangzeb's second coronation was celebrated nearly one year later (5 June 1659) after his triumph in the War of Succession was nearly complete. This second, or real, coronation was celebrated at the imperial seat of power in the Red Fort at Delhi. In contrast to the modest first event, the second coronation was the most splendid ever celebrated by a Mughal emperor. The festivities lasted for more than two months.
The triumphal symbolism that marked the second imperial coronation is also reflected in the unusual iconography of the present picture. The moon and the light it casts—the only charged element in the painting—are central to its meaning in several ways. The moon isolates and aggrandizes Aurangzeb, the sole figure upon which it shines.
Copyright © 2012 Smithsonian Institution