Ebba Koch Abstract

The Mughal Emperors as Collectors: Jahangir (rul. 1605- 1627) and Shah Jahan (1628-58)

Ebba Koch
Universität Wien, Vienna

The Mughal Empire was founded in 1526 in India by the Timurid Central Asian prince Babur (died 1530). The ruling philosophy of the first five emperors, called in the West the Great Moguls, was characterized by an open and cosmopolitan approach. The Mughals were especially interested in Central Asia, the region of their origin; in India, where they sought to establish themselves as rulers acceptable to all; in neighbouring Iran, as the homeland of Persianate culture and concepts of kingship; and in Europe, the newly emerging power in the West. The Mughals were highly original “interculturalists” and their universalistic approach makes them particular attractive subjects of investigation in our global times when trans regional and cross cultural concerns have moved into the foreground of academic discussion and public debate and when we have become especially susceptible to historical periods with comparable agendas. The artistic patronage and the art collections of the Mughal emperors fully reflect their weltanschaung.

Mughal collections and collecting practices have so far received largely indirect attention. This paper will discuss how at the turn of the seventeenth century the Mughal emperors entered the stage of “international” collecting and how the collecting interests and strategies of the Mughal emperor Jahangir show amazing analogies with those of contemporary European rulers. Did Jahangir have a Kunstkammer? His son and successor Shah Jahan used Florentine pietra -dura tablets in his throne arrangement at Delhi (1648) to express a Solomonic throne programme. In the context of collecting they can also be seen as a highly visible and ideologically charged exhibition of European art at the Mughal court.