The school of Mughal painting began in 1549 when Humayun(1530-56) invited two Persian painters to his court, then at Kabul. They came to direct the illustration of the Amir Hamza, a fantastic narrative of which some 1,400 large paintings were executed on cloth.
Achievements under Akbar
In architecture the first great Mughal monument was the mausoleum to Humayun, erected during the reign of Akbar (1556-1605). The tomb, which was built in the 1560s, was designed by a Persian architect Mirak Mirza Ghiyas. Set in a garden at Delhi, it has an intricate ground plan with central octagonal chambers, joined by an archway with an elegant facade and surmounted by cupolas, kiosks, and pinnacles. At the same time Akbar was building his fortress-palace in his capital, Agra. Native red sandstone was inlaid with white marble, and all the surfaces were ornately carved on the outside and sumptuously painted inside.
Akbar went on to build the entire city of Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory) in which extensive use was made of the low arches and bulbous domes that characterize the Mughal style. Built in 1571 the choice of the site of Sikri reflected Akbar's gratitude to a Muslim saint at Sikri for the birth of his son. Courtiers soon followed suit and built homes surrounding the palace and mosque. The new city became the capital of the empire, but in 1585 it was abandoned.
Under Akbar, Persian artists directed an academy of local painters. The drawings, costumes, and ornamentation of illuminated manuscripts by the end of the 16th cent. illustrate the influence of Indian tastes and manners in the bright coloring and detailed landscape backgrounds. Modeling and perspective also began to be adapted from Western pictures. Basawan, Lal, and Daswanth were Akbar's most famous painters.
Jahangir (1605-27) favored paintings of events from his own life rather than illustrated fiction. He encouraged portraiture and scientific studies of birds, flowers, and animals, which were collected in albums. Mansur and Manohar were among his famous painters. Jahangir, who resided at Lahore, built less than his predecessors but effected the significant change from sandstone to marble.
It was Shah Jahan (1628-58) who perfected Mughal architecture and erected at Agra its most noble and famous building, the tomb of his favorite wife, which is known as the Taj Mahal. A huge white marble building of simple, symmetrical plan, it is inlaid with colorful semiprecious materials and is set in an equally beautiful and symmetrical garden. The Taj Mahal continues the tradition of Mughal garden tombs, of which Humayun's tomb was the first. Shah Jahan established (1638) Delhi as his capital and built there the famous Red Fort, which contained the imperial Mughal palace. Painting also flourished during Shah Jahan's reign. Portraiture was most highly developed at his sophisticated court, and ink drawings were of high quality.
Decline under Aurangzeb
Under the orthodox Aurangzeb (1659-1707) the decline of the arts began, although his ornate Pearl Mosque (1662) at Delhi is worthy of mention. During his reign the Mughal academy was dispersed. Many artists then joined Rajput courts, where their influence on Hindu painting is clearly evident.
See also S. C. Welch, Imperial Mughal Painting (1978); M. Beach, The Imperial Image: Paintings from the Mughal Court (1982); E. Koch, Mughal Architecture (1991).