Persian and Mughal Miniatures are among the most popular works of Islamic art sold at auction. This is due to their incredible detail, coloration, and technique, as well as the fascinating stories these works tell. Many examples can sell into the hundreds of dollars, with fine examples selling into the thousands and, even, into the hundreds of thousands and millions.

Mughal miniature of a tiger hunt
"Tiger Hunt with Elephant". Mughal India. Opaque Watercolor, Ink, and Gold on Paper. 19th century.

Miniature Painting: Questions

Persian miniatures have an intriguing history, that is, in many ways, somewhat contradictory. Islam generally prohibits figural representation of people and animals. Yet, we find incredible scenes of people and animals in Persian miniature paintings, showing everything from academic discussions and lover’s trysts to pitched battles and tiger hunts. Upon inspection, the reason for this becomes clear: Persian art before the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century featured much figural imagery, and old habits die hard. So, it becomes clear that Persian artists would not completely rid themselves of their artistic heritage, but adapt their art to their new religion and beliefs. The continued use of figural imagery, therefore, seems to be a cultural choice on the part of Persian artists. Besides, figural imagery has been traditionally avoided in the construction of Persian mosques and within the pages of the Qur’an itself.

Mughal miniature of a courtly lady with attendants.
"Courtly Lady with Attendants". Mughal India. Opaque Watercolor, Ink, and Gold on Paper. 19th century.

Persian Miniatures: The Safavids

Persian miniatures as they exist today have their beginnings in the Ilkhanid period (1256 – 1353). The Ilkhanids, an Islamicized branch of the Mongols, brought Chinese painting to Persia, and commissioned fine illustrated books. Artists illustrated important works of Persian literature, like Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, with complex and detailed scenes of kings and heroes. The background landscapes were increasingly influenced by Chinese landscape painting, especially as other dynasties ruled Persia. In these works, image and text were aligned and connected in a way few other illustrated books have been. Persian miniatures reached their zenith under the Safavid dynasty (1501 – 1722), with the finest work of that golden age being the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524 – 1576). Safavid Persian miniatures were influential throughout the Islamic world, and Persian miniature painters traveled to the courts of other Muslim monarchs, including the Ottomans in Turkey and, most importantly for our purposes, the Mughals in India and South Asia. In Mughal India, the Safavid artists found miniature painting flourishing.

Folio from the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp
Muzaffar 'Ali, "The Angel Surush Rescues Khusrau Parviz from a Cul-de-Sac". Opaque Watercolor, Ink, and Gold on Paper. ca. 1530 - 1535. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Mughal Miniatures

The Mughal Empire (1526 – 1857) held sway over much of modern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Founded by Babur (1483 – 1530), a prince of the earlier Timurid dynasty (1370 – 1507), the Mughals reached their peak of power and influence under the great Shahs Akbar, Jahangir, and Jahan in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Persian miniature painting had been introduced under the Timurids, and found fertile ground in India. Like Persia, India had a tradition of figural representation in their art that stretched back centuries. Here, Miniature painting reached an unparalleled level of fineness and naturalism, especially under Shah Jahan (r. 1628 – 1658). Official court patronage of miniatures ended with Jahan, as his son and successor Aurangzeb suppressed miniature painting as something unacceptable in a Muslim state. Mughal miniatures continued through the rest of the Empire’s history, being produced mainly in the smaller courts of various local rulers, both Muslim and Hindu.

Miniature of Shah Jahan and his Son
Nanha, "The Emperor Shah Jahan with his Son Dara Shikoh", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album. Opaque Watercolor, Ink, and Gold on Paper. Ca. 1620. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Miniature Painting Today

Both Persian and Mughal miniature painting have survived into the present day. Modern miniature painters and even contemporary artists in the former domains of these Empires draw on the rich imagery and power of these works of art. The most popular of these artists is Shahzia Sikander (Pakistani-American, b. 1969), who learned Mughal miniature painting and uses it to express contemporary ideas and messages. Sikander’s work is present in famed galleries and museums around the world.

Mughal miniature of courtly romance
"Courtly Romance". Mughal India. Opaque Watercolor, Ink, and Gold on Paper. 18th - 19th century.

Selling Persian & Mughal Miniatures at Nest Egg Auctions

Nest Egg Auctions has had the privilege of selling a number of Mughal miniatures at auction. These pieces show the immense detail and technique utilized by the artists, as well as their connection to the long and storied history of Indo-Persian miniature painting. We see hunting scenes, scenes of courtly romance, and royal life in Mughal India, all surrounded by beautiful nasta’liq Persian calligraphy.

Mughal miniature of the Shah and his Court.
"The Shah and his Court". Mughal India. Opaque Watercolor, Ink, and Gold on Paper. 17th - 18th century.

If you have a Persian or Mughal (Indo-Persian) miniature painting you would like to sell, please do not hesitate to contact Nest Egg Auctions. We have a deep appreciation and respect for these brilliant paintings, and we will strive to exceed your expectations.