Cultural Encounters: Jesus and Jerusalem in the Mughal Court

Mughal Painting from the Royal Court, c. 1600

Searching the V&A catalogue, I stumbled across this fabulous image. It is a characteristically refined and naturalistic painting done by an unknown artist at the Mughal royal court, probably between 1600 and 1610. The Mughal Empire stretched across most of present-day India and Pakistan, where it consolidated the presence of Islam, and spread Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture into South Asia.

It was in 1573 that contact between Mughal Empire and European travellers was first initiated, after the emperor Akbar led his forces into Gujarat and captured the great port city of Surat. As a result of his encounter with members of the Portugese settlement at Goa, Akbar sent an embassy to Goa, which, in turn, prompted several Jesuit missions to the Mughal court in the hope of converting these leading Moslems to Catholicism (the Jesuits are an evangelical order within the Catholic Church).

As was customary the Jesuits brought gifts, as well as prints and paintings. These were shown to the royal artists, who began to adapt and copy elements within the distinctive Mughal style. This painting is believed to show the infant Jesus being presented in the Temple at Jerusalem, forty days after his nativity. It stands as an intriguing reminder of the cultural, literary, and artistic encounters which accompanied missionary activity, and the ways in which a culture might appropriate or adopt certain elements of foreign religious and narrative traditions and incorporate them within their own worldview and practices.

You can see the image at the V&A where it forms part of the South Asian collections, or take a look at it, with several additional images, on the V&A website. You can find out more about Mughal India on the British Museum’s interactive Mughal India room, and view some more Mughal art in an online exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

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3 thoughts on “Cultural Encounters: Jesus and Jerusalem in the Mughal Court

  1. Pingback: Cultural Encounters: Jesus and Jerusalem in the Mughal Court | Islamic Civilization I

  2. Very Intriguing! I love to see cross-cultural encounters especially ones that involve Islamic interpretations of Christianity. For me, I would have never guessed that this painting was the presentation of Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem without knowing the subject of the painting beforehand. However, having clicked on the link to the V&A website and seeing that there was a backside to the painting of presumably Mary, Jesus, and John the Baptist in a setting that was extremely popular with artists around the time of this painting, made the painting of the presentation of Jesus more compelling. The presentation of Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem is a more subtle incorporation of a Christian story into Islamic art and a more telling one since it is nor just a copy or imitation of a Christian theme like the one of Mary, Jesus, and John the Baptist. Instead, the artist has made his encounter with Christianity his own by depicting everything within his own culture and religion.

  3. Pingback: Update – Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire « Conversion Narratives in Early Modern Europe

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