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The Persian word muraqqa‘ means “album,” but more specifically it means “patched” or a “patched garment,” such as the patched cloak worn by Islamic mystics (Sufis) as a sign of poverty and humility. The word came to be applied to albums because of their patchwork construction: each of the album pages included in this exhibition consists of numerous separate pieces of paper, usually produced in both Iran (or Central Asia) and India over a period of one hundred years or more.

On one side of each album folio is a picture (or a composite of several images) surrounded by decorated borders. On the other side there is usually a panel of calligraphy, also surrounded by decorated borders. The folios were arranged so that openings of pictures alternated with openings of calligraphy.

These albums (each of which has survived as a series of loose, unbound folios) are today known as: the Salim Album (c. 1600-1605), Salim’s Shikarnama (or, Hunting Book, c. 1600-1605), the Gulshan Album (c. 1600-1618), the Minto Album (c. 1612-1640), the Nasir al-Din Shah Album (c. 1627-1645), and the Late Shah Jahan Album (c. 1650-1658).

The Mughals

On April 20, 1526, at Panipat, just north of Delhi, Babur, the first Mughal emperor (d. 1530), defeated and killed Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, head of the Muslim Lodi dynasty that had held power in northern India since 1451. For most of the next three centuries, the Mughals were the major political power in India, their long rule finally coming to an end in 1858 when the British exiled the last Mughal ruler.

The pinnacle of Mughal power and wealth occurred under the emperors Akbar (r.1556-1605), Jahangir (r.1605-27), Shah Jahan (r.1628-57), and Awrangzib (r.1658-1707), the first three of whom were keen patrons of the arts. Under the patronage, in particular, of Jahangir (both before and after his accession) and of his son, Shah Jahan, there evolved what was arguably one of the richest and finest periods of artistic production the world has ever known. Under Akbar, fine, decorated manuscripts had been the focus of production, but under his son and grandson albums--compilations of paintings and calligraphy--were the favored medium of artistic expression.