Sukaina Husain

Project title: A Paradoxical Condition: Mughal Aesthetics between the reigns of the emperors, Akbar and Jahangir (1598-1627)

Why do Mughal paintings look the way they look? In a search for an answer to the above question, my project turns to the reigns of the Mughal rulers, Akbar (r. 1556-1605) and Jahangir (r. 1605-1627). By looking at variations in approaches to visual culture between the courts of the two emperors, I aim to explore the ways in which imperial ideology was pictorially articulated and intellectually discerned within the scheme and design of the Mughal picture. The black line of the painter’s brush gave form to complex ideas about beauty, knowledge, perception and power, becoming a site for a complex, textured web of intellectual encounters between the worlds of Persianate, Islamic and Indic philosophy, theology and aesthetics. In order to understand the way in which the relationship between ideology, patron, painter and painting worked, my project aims to qualify a system of Mughal aesthetics by following the breaks and disjunctures in painterly approaches to pictorial form between Akbar and Jahangir. Ultimately, I am interested in the interplay of two ideas – the ways in which painters approached the problem of representation, and two, the ideological concepts guiding changes and shifts in the aforementioned painterly approaches. A systematic study of Mughal aesthetics not only brings us closer to the secret guiding the design of the Mughal picture, but also leads us towards a richer scholarly understanding of the ideologies and systems that governed and shaped the Mughal world at large.

Awarded: Carnegie PhD Scholarship

Field: History of Art

University: University of Edinburgh

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