Lot 86. A Mughal nobleman riding through a landscape holding a hawk, India, Deccan, Bijapur, circa 1660-80, gouache and gold on paper, depicting a mounted nobleman holding a hawk on his right hand, a retinue with elephant following, within a landscape, inscription to the reverse; 18.4 by 27.4cm. Estimate 70,000 — 90,000 GBP. Unsold. Courtesy Sotheby's 2018.

Note: This is an important and rare equestrian portrait painted at Bijapur during the third quarter of the seventeenth century.

It is close in style and palette to the well-known dynastic durbar scene The House of Bijapur by Kamal Muhammad and Chand Muhammad in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1982.213; see Zebrowski 1983, pl.XVII, Welch 1985, no.208, Haidar and Sardar 2011, frontispiece and cover detail). Indeed, the execution of the horse, the rocks and the trees in that work is very close to those in the present example. It also relates stylistically to other Bijapur works, including A Princely Deer Hunt, datable to circa 1660, in which the horses and palette again relate to the present work (see Welch 1985, no.207; Zebrowski 1983, no.115), and Sultan Muhammad Adil Shah before a distant vista, a mid-seventeenth century work by Muhammad Khan, son of Miyan Chand, where the background hills and trees are close to the present example (see Zebrowski 1983, no.94).

The identity of the mounted figure here is uncertain. By the time this work was painted, the Mughal overlordship of the Deccan was well-established and Mughal princes and officers were frequent visitors and residents. Furthermore, Mughal artistic influence was assimilated into Deccani art. The facial type of the main figure, as well as the composition in general, is clearly influenced by the Mughal school (for a closely related Mughal equestrian hawking scene of the same period in the India Office Library Collections, British Library, see Falk and Archer 1981, p.410, no103; Losty and Leach, no.11). The figure wears a beard of a distinctly Mughal fashion associated with the reign of Shah Jahan and the early years of Aurangzeb's reign.

An inscription on the reverse gives the name Ja'far Khan. There were several noblemen and courtiers of the Shah Jahan and Awrangzeb periods with this name, but the two most likely are the Ja'far Khan who was Mir Bakhshi from 1647 onwards, and the Ja'far Khan who was Umdat al-Mulk, minister and governor towards the end of Shah Jahan's reign and Grand Vizier under Awrangzeb. A portrait of the former, by Chitarman of circa 1645 (British Museum, 1920,0917,0.13.36, see Beach and Koch 1997, fig.114, p.192) shows him to have had a similar physiognomy to the present figure, and other portraits of him, including numerous appearances in groups scenes in the Padshahnama and related works, confirm the similarity, albeit occasionally with a straighter nose (see Beach and Koch 1997, pages as indexed) . The latter is shown in a Deccani portrait of circa 1670 in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (69.8, see Leach 1995, vol.II, pp.951-2, no.9.682, p.955, col.pl.138). The Deccani origin of this seated portrait perhaps provides a link to the present work, also of Deccani origin; however, even allowing for the much greater age of the sitter, the facial features are less akin, leaving the former courtier as the more likely match.

Since the inscription on the reverse has probably been written somewhat later than the execution of the painting itself, it is also possible that the figure here is meant to depict someone else, perhaps a royal figure, and it is worth noting that a closely related drawing of Shah Jahan carrying a hawk as he processes across a landscape with his army is in the Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (F1907.196, see http://www.asia.si.edu/collections/zoomObject.cfm?ObjectId=3416, where it is described as Mughal, although it is quite possibly Deccani in origin). The prince with the closest facial characteristics is Prince Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan’s eldest son and heir apparent, who is often shown with a very slightly more convex line to his nose, and with the same type of Shah Jahan-fashion beard as seen here (see, for instance: Dara Shikoh (one of four portraits on an album page), Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., S1986.421, see Beach 2012, no.22I; Shah Jahan Receiving Dara Shikoh, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.83.105.21, see Pal 1993, pp.282-3, (which clearly shows the slight difference between Dara Shikoh's visage and Shah Jahan's); Dara Shikoh with a Tray of Jewels, Victoria and Albert Museum, IM 19-1925, see Stronge 2002, pl.115; Dara Shikoh with Mian Mir and Mulla Shah, Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., S1986.432, see Beach 2012, no.36; Dara Shikoh and Sulaiman Shikoh, sale in these rooms, 16 June 2009, lot 2; Portrait of Dara Shikoh, Christie’s, London, 10 October 2006, lot 166). A further very close resemblance can be seen in a small portrait in the Dyson Perrins album, included in this sale as lot 102. Dara Shikoh’s brother, Prince Shah Shuja, also has the very slightly convex nose profile (see a portrait in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Leach 1995, no.3,82, Wright 2008, no.81), and he is also a possible candidate for the subject here. However, if the painting does show a royal prince, which the symbolism of the mounted, hawking figure might imply, it is slightly odd that he is depicted without a nimbus, which portraits of royal princes of the Mughal dynasty would normally have. Thus the probability remains that it does indeed depict one of the senior Mughal courtiers named Ja'far Khan.

Sotheby's. Arts of the Islamic World, London, 25 Apr 2018, 10:30 AM