The Virgin and Child
Northern India (Imperial Mughal)
Pigments on paper
6 9/16 x 4 1/16 in (16.7 x 10.3 cm)
Published: Pal 1971, p. 34 and no. 32
A painting of the Virgin and Child has been inserted here because the subject matter resonates with that of the work that follows. Both Jesuits and traders from Europe introduced European works of art, especially prints and drawings, to the Mughal court during the reign of the Emperor Akbar (1558 - 1605). Akbar and his son and successor Jahangir (reigned 1605 - 27) were fascinated by the biblical content of these works and impressed by their thematic novelty, painterly qualities, and technical sophistication. Made available to the artists of the imperial atelier, the works were assiduously studied and copied by the Mughal masters. Many originals were so admired that they were included in imperial albums, especially those prepared for Jahangir, and are still preserved in various institutions, one of the most well known being the Gulshan album in Teheran.
The copies or interpretations of European subjects, both religious and allegorical, were much admired by Jahangir. He was especially fond of images of the Virgin, which adorned his palace in Lahore (vestiges of these paintings can still be seen today). The Ford Virgin and Child, a finely rendered and expressive tinted drawing, may have been executed for the emperor by one of his favorite artists as a tribute (nazr) on his birthday, New Year's Day, or some other special occasion.
Wearing a light pink dress, the Virgin is seated on sloping ground below a tree with a blue mantle covering her legs. A white shawl wraps around her right shoulder, partially covers her head, and flutters behind her. She turns to look affectionately at her naked child, who holds her left hand tenderly and carries flowers. With her right hand, she seems to be picking up a basket so that the child may put the flowers in it. Beyond the tree to the left, there appears to be a structure - a grotto perhaps - with a grove of trees still further in the distance. The European source for this deftly rendered picture has yet to be identified, but the picture does demonstrate unambiguously the Mughal painter's ability to master European technique and to infuse a foreign subject with tender emotion.
all text and images © The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore