Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Bichitr
Portraits of power

Portrait of Bichitr

The Mughal Emperors of India were a progressive crew. Ruling a huge swath of India from 1526 to 1857, they brought centralized governance and trade to India, and funded the construction of architecture like the Taj Mahal. The Mughal emperors also loved to get their portraits painted.

Enter Bichitr, a court painter for two of the great Mughal Emperors: Muhammad Salīm, who called himself Jahangir “Conqueror of the World” and Jahān Shāh. Bichitr’s earliest works date from 1615, and that’s all we know of the artist’s life—but we get a rare glimpse of the artist himself in the strange portrait collage Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings. In this work, Jahangir presides over a Sufi Shaikh a Muslim holy man, an Ottoman Sultan, and oddly, King James of England, who had contacted Jahangir through his ambassador Sir Thomas Roe. The last figure in the painting, included in this royal array, is Bichitr. He wears a red turban, showing himself to be a Hindu in the Muslim court, and presents a miniature to Jahangir.

Bichitr worked during a time of change in India. Progressive rulers had elevated the status of artists, and the beginnings of European influence are visible. Bichitr’s technically refined portraiture and ability to render hands won him the respect of the Emperors, but his blended use of Indian iconography and European symbolism has us pouring over his work to this day.

Reed Enger, "Bichitr, Portraits of power," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 22, 2017; last modified October 27, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/bichitr/.

Bichitr was an Indian artist born in 1585. Bichitr contributed to the Mughal movement and died in 1660.

Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings, Bichitr

Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings 1615 – 1618

Portrait of Raja Bikramajit, Bichitr

Portrait of Raja Bikramajit 1620

Nasta'liq Calligraphy, Bichitr

Nasta'liq Calligraphy 1640

Portrait of the Elephant 'Alam Guman, Bichitr

Portrait of the Elephant 'Alam Guman 1640

Shah Jahan with Asaf Khan, Bichitr

Shah Jahan with Asaf Khan 1640

Shah-Jahan receives his three eldest sons and Asaf Khan during his accession ceremonies, Bichitr

Shah-Jahan receives his three eldest sons and Asaf Khan during his accession ceremonies 1630 – 1657

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