Prince Dara Shikoh Hunting Nilgae

Shah Jahan demanded formality in his imperial portraits, but he encouraged innovation in other pictorial genres. His master artist Payag created this intimate landscape of convincing depth by omitting the sky and focusing on the forest’s shadows and textures. Further demonstrating his skill, Payag ambitiously foreshortened the body of the wounded nilgae (blue antelope) and captured the sly posture of a hunter camouflaged behind young bulls.

Hunting with a matchlock rifle is Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan and heir apparent to the Mughal throne. After Shah Jahan fell ill in 1657, Dara Shikoh and his younger brothers (including Shah Shuja) engaged in a bitter battle for succession. His brother Aurangzeb emerged triumphant as the next Mughal emperor.

Prince Dara Shikoh Hunting Nilgae
From the St. Petersburg Album
Attributed to Payag (act. ca. 1591–1658) India, Mughal dynasty, ca. 1640
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S1993.42