Mughal School of Paintings

Origin of Mughal School of Paintings is a landmark in history of Indian paintings. The school originated in the reign of Akbar. The origin of Mughal style is was a result of synthesis of indigenous Indian style of painting and the Safavid school of Persian painting. Mughal paintings were a unique blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles. The major features of Mughal Schools are:

  • Paintings based upon close observation of nature
  • Fine and delicate drawing along with calligraphic text descriptions, generally on border.
  • High aesthetic merit
  • Primarily aristocratic
  • Mostly Secular

Development of Mughal School of Paintings under Akbar

The reign of Akbar is known for the initial works of Mughal School done by Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdus Samad Khan. These two artists were originally employed by Humayun. Apart from this celebrated duo, more than a hundred painters were employed, most of whom were Hindus from Gujarat, Gwalior and Kashmir. The collected and constant efforts of these artists gave birth to a new school of painting, popularly known as the Mughal School of miniature Paintings. The two most celebrated works accomplished during the times of Akbar was Tuti-nama and Hamza Nama.


Tuti-nama seems to be the first work of the Mughal School. Tuti-Nama literally means the “Tales of a Parrot”. It is an illustrated compilation of 52 stories in 250 miniature paintings. The work was commissioned by Akbar. The themes and stories are derived from the 12th century Sanskrit anthology titled Śukasaptati
or “Seventy Tales of Parrot”. The parrot tells the 52 stories in the consecutive 52 nights and in these stories he teaches some moral stories to his owner. The work was completed in a span of five years under Mir Sayyid Ali and Abdus Samad. The text was written by Nakhshabi, an ethnic Persian physician and a Sufi saint who had migrated to Badayun. It was wrote in Persian.


A more refined and developed work is the Hamza-nama, which contains the illustrations on cloth, originally consisting of 1400 leaves in seventeen volumes. Each leaf measured about 27″x20″. These paintings were based upon a Persian Hamzanama or Dastan-e-Amir Hamza. Amir Hamza was the uncle of the prophet of Islam. Hamza nama was a extremely fanciful story, which was disliked by Babur but was so much enjoyed by his grandson Akbar that he commissioned the court workshop to create an illustrated manuscript on this fable, and that took 14 years to complete!

These illustrations went beyond the story-telling and brought into existence some dazzling images, glowing with jewel-like colours. The initial paintings show the Persian safavi style with Brilliant red, blue and green colours predominating. The later works show Indian tones.

Mughal School under Jahangir

Under Jahangir, the Mughal school paintings acquired greater charm, refinement and dignity. The emperor Jahangir had a great fascination for nature and took delight in the portraiture of birds, animals and flowers. The best example of this period is the portrait of Jahangir himself, who is shown holding a picture of the Virgin Mary in his right hand. Some other illustrated manuscripts of Jahangir’s time are animal fable book titled Ayar-i-Danish, Anwar-i-sunavli. Most of the paintings created during the time of Jahangir depict the durbar scenes, portraits, bird, animal and flower studies.

Aqa Riza, Abul Hasan, Mansur, Bishan Das, Manohar, Goverdhan, Balchand, Daulat, Mukhlis, Bhim and Inayat were the famous painters in the court of Jahangir.

Ustad Mansur

Ustad Mansur was a court artist of Jehangir, who specialised in depicting plants and animals. He is best known for two paintings one of which was a siberian crane and another was of a Bengal Florican. He is also remembered for a famous painting on Dodo, the now extinct Bird.


Out of the above mentioned painters, Bishandas was praised by the emperor as “unrivalled in the art of portraiture”. In 1613, Bishandas was sent on a diplomatic mission to Persia, to paint the Shah’s portrait. He remained there for seven years and returned happily with an elephant as gift.

Development of Provincial Mughal School

Inspired by their overlord, the Mughal courtiers and the provincial officers started patronizing the artists trained in the Mughal technique of painting. At the same time, we have been told that Jahangir had a passion for perfect artists. The artists with inferior merits lost their jobs and sought employment in the provinces. Thus, during those times, the artists who were employed in the Imperial Government were known as the first grade artists. The works accomplished by these first grade artists is known as the Imperial Mughal Painting.

But the artists available to the provinces were of inferior merit, thus, the works accomplished in the provinces was known as ‘Popular Mughal’ or ‘Provincial Mughal’ painting, which possessed all the important characteristics of the Imperial Mughal painting with some inferior quality. The example paintings of the provincial Mughal paintings are Razm-nama, Rasikapriya and Ramayana, all of which were created in the initial two decades of 17th century.

Mughal School of painting under the Shahjahan

The refined quality of the Mughal School was maintained under the reign of Shah Jahan. Importance was given to portraiture.

Under Aurangzeb and later Mughals

Puritan King Aurangzeb did not encourage art and thus much of the quality of the Mughal painting was lost. This was the time of mass migration of court artists to provinces. Later, Bahadur shah tried to revive the art, but after him, the school became lifeless and worthless much like the later mughals.


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  • naureen


  • Arjun

    Thank you Sir for the ell constructed concise information.

  • Sophia

    Thanks! Used this on a History project!