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In Session: Festivals, Celebrations, and Their Representation in Early Modern and Colonial South Asia
3: “Adorning the Workshop of the World”: Depictions of Ceremony in the Windsor Padshāhnāma
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Harvard University, United States
Court life in Mughal India was punctuated by aestheticized rituals which reinforced the relationship between the Emperor, his subjects, and his territory. The visual language which developed during the period is often considered part of this imperial apparatus: the use of viewpoints that emphasized the Emperor, the proliferation of darbār scenes, and increasingly structured compositions. It is puzzling, then, that depictions of imperial festivities often break with these pictorial conventions. How can we parse these images for material evidence of their creation and (re)use? A survey of ceremonial scenes in the flagship Shahjahani manuscript, the Padshāhnāma, reveals a series of design experiments which build upon developments in Mughal workshop practice. From processional scenes and princely weddings, to the Emperor’s biannual weighing ceremony, I document the emergence of a visual idiom for these events, which diverges from textual sources. This approach to pictorial space mimics the temporal experience of being in the presence of the Emperor, while engaging the viewer’s faculties of memory and visualization. By examining these images of key ceremonies in the Padshāhnāma, this paper proposes a new reading of temporality and history in Shahjahani painting.