Detail from CBL In 07B.28, Shah Jahan with his Bejewelled Musket by Payag.

Part 1: The Nasir al-Din Shah Album, a Mughal Muraqqa’

29 January, 2021

The Chester Beatty holds a large collection of Mughal Indian manuscript folios. Many of these folios were conserved in 2008 in preparation for a large touring exhibition, Muraqqa’ Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, but we are currently reviewing the whole collection to ensure that the mounting and storage is standardised.

Many of these folios are single leaves from bound manuscripts, which often contain a painting and surrounding text on one side and continuing text on the other. Others are rigid double-sided leaves mounted with different works on paper, which once belonged in albums, referred to as muraqqa’.

The Persian word muraqqa’ means “album” but more literally it can be translated as “patched” or “patched garment.” It relates to the garments worn by Sufi sages. They took vows of material poverty and were known to wear garments that had been mended over time. The word muraqqa’ came to mean album because of the album’s patchwork composition [1].

This can be seen on every muraqqa’ folio. Each of the double-sided folios is constructed with decorative margins and inner borders made from separate pieces of dyed paper, and coloured rulings which frame the inserted central painting and calligraphy panels.

Left: CBL In 07B.28, Shah Jahan with his Bejewelled Musket by Payag; Right: CBL In 11A.1, Raja Man Singh by Payag.

Left: CBL In 07B.28, Shah Jahan with his Bejewelled Musket by Payag; Right: CBL In 11A.1, Raja Man Singh by Payag.

An album was foremost an art collection, containing prized examples of painting, drawing or calligraphy. Many of these albums were commissioned by Mughal emperors and produced in the Imperial atelier. These treasured objects were passed down within the imperial family and often reused and reformatted as ownership changed. This fluid exchange can make their construction difficult – but fascinating – to trace.

Muraqqa’ were arranged in a specific manner; usually, a page-opening of paintings would be followed by an opening of calligraphies on facing pages [2]. All the folios I am working on have been removed from their bindings, as is the case for many of these objects in collections worldwide.

The Nasir al-Din Shah album

The Nasir al-Din Shah album [3] is a group of 172 folios named after the Qajar ruler of Iran, Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848-1896). The album was initially compiled during the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658) with reused paintings produced in India during the reign of Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), [4] as well as earlier Persian calligraphy and two European images [5].

Under the rule of Nasir al-Din Shah, the album was altered and rebound. Many folios were given additional calligraphy panels or paintings, as well as new inner borders. These inner borders contain both Indian and Iranian examples [6].

The album may have arrived in Iran from India after the Sack of Delhi in 1739, and most of the manuscript is now kept at the Gulistan Palace Library in Tehran. However, a number of folios were dispersed to collections around the world, including 13 of which are now in the Chester Beatty (CBL In 07B.28, In 11A.1-2, In 50.3-12).

Left: CBL In 50.9, Unsigned 19th century calligraphy and original Mughal borders; Right: CBL In 50.4, Aurangzeb as a young man.

Left: CBL In 50.9, Unsigned 19th century calligraphy and original Mughal borders; Right: CBL In 50.4, Aurangzeb as a young man.

This Imperial Mughal muraqqa’ is extremely interesting to look at despite—or perhaps because of—its complicated history. It allows us to trace the visual evidence of alterations to different dates and locations and understand how these folios were assembled.

Over the next few blog posts, I will explore the making of the Chester Beatty’s Nasir al-Din Shah folios in order to understand the construction of Imperial Mughal muraqqa’ in greater detail.

Julia Poirier, Book & Paper Conservator

References

[1] Elaine Wright, ‘An Introduction of the Albums of Jahangir and Shah Jahan,’ in Muraqqa‘: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library. Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2008, p.41.

[2] Elaine Wright, ‘An Introduction…,’ Muraqqa, p.39.

[3] For more information on the Nasir al-Din Shah album’s history and artistic development, we look forward to reading Naciem Nikkhah’s doctoral work, some of which was shared in the paper, “The Nasir al-Din Shah Album: A Narrative of Collecting, Colloque: Georges Marteau, sa collection et son temps, 19 November 2019, The Louvre, Paris. 

[4] Elaine Wright, ‘The Nasir al-Din Shah Album, c. 1627-1645,’ in Muraqqa‘: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library. Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2008, p.141.

[5] Elaine Wright, ‘The Nasir al-Din Shah Album,’ Muraqqa, p.145.

[6] Elaine Wright, ‘The Nasir al-Din Shah Album,’ Muraqqa, p.142.

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