Yael RiceJun 30, 2023
The Brush of Insight
Artists and Agency at the Mughal Court
University of Washington Press 2023
Over the course of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Mughal court painters evolved from illustrators of manuscripts and albums to active mediators of imperial visionary experience, cultivating their patrons’ earthly and spiritual authority. The Brush of Insight: Artists and Agency at the Mughal Court (University of Washington Press, 2023) traces this shift, demonstrating how royal artists created a new visual economy that featured highly naturalistic royal portraits and depictions of the emperors’ dreams. These images, in turn, shaped the perception of the Mughal emperors’ preeminence in all domains—temporal and spiritual—from the reign of Akbar to that of his son and successor, Jahangir. In analyzing a wide range of visual materials including manuscripts, albums, and coins, art historian Yael Rice, Associate Professor at Amherst College, documents how manuscript painters and paintings challenged the status of writing as the primary medium for the transmission of knowledge and experience. The Brush of Insight probes how pictures and illustrated books became central to imperial modes of seeing and being in early modern Mughal South Asia. In our conversation we discussed royal court culture, illustrated manuscripts, the role of painters, the collective foundations of the workshop, sacred kingship and Sufi sheikhs, artists as mediators between the spiritual and material worlds, the celebration of Nawruz, and the creation of a specific Mughal artistic style and professional identity.
Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.