The Role of the Horse in Mughal Miniature Paintings
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The Mughal Empire lasted from 1526 until 1858 in present day Northern India and Pakistan, but was under strong imperial control until 1707. The Mughal emperors were Islamic invaders who combined their culture with that of the native Hindus. This especially showed in their miniature paintings, illustrations in books and manuscripts. Books were considered a commodity, and required a patron who could afford an entire workshop of artisans. Mughal artists created a unique style, drawing from Persian and Indian influences with heavy input from their patrons. The paintings were heavily stylized, but the stylizations were specific. No previous study has used the horse as a focus to analyze miniatures, so this research utilizes detailed information about horse conformation and coat coloring to understand the visual language of the miniatures. By combing these two fields, it is possible to gain new information about the painting methods, and assuming involvement of royal patronage, the importance of the horse in Mughal society. In order to accurately analyze the artistic stylization, it is necessary to explore the overall appearance of horse breeds at the time. Contemporary observations can be compared with modern understandings of equine breeds, conformation, and color. The research indicates that artists attempted to accurately portray animals that resemble modern breeds from the area; the horses in the paintings, like their modern counterparts, had arched necks, long, slender legs, and thin tails, but the miniatures portrayed animals with large bodies, which contrasts the lean build of modern breeds. In terms of coloration, the paintings usually portrayed colors correctly, except that animals with black-based coat patterns never showed black on their ears, as real animals would. This would imply that techniques such as cropping the ears was common place, thus the black was removed. The lack of certain colors and high appearance of others shows the importance appearance among the royalty. The consistency in coat colors between two paintings of the same scene show a desire to maintain historical accuracy. Overall, by combining knowledge and careful study of horse breeds, colors, and conformation with miniatures, new insight can be uncovered about Mughal society.
Mullins, Emily (2011). The Role of the Horse in Mughal Miniature Paintings. Honors and Undergraduate Research. Available electronically from