Rare Mughal album folio goes on display at Detroit Institute of Arts

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Image of the Folio from the Late Shah Jahan Album now on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: courtesy DIA

An important imperial Mughal album folio acquired by the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in 2019 is now on public view in the museum’s Islamic gallery.

The richly detailed, double-sided folio was from an album commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan, who ruled from 1628-58 and is best known today as the patron of the Taj Mahal.

The DIA’s folio from the Late Shah Jahan Album features a portrait of a courtier on one side and lines of Persian nastaliq calligraphy on the other, both framed by borders that are paintings in their own right.

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While the portrait dates to around the same time as the album (ca. 1650-58), or slightly earlier, the calligraphy, penned by the renowned calligrapher Mir ‘Ali Haravi (Persian, active ca. 1505-45), was already more than 100 years old by the time the album was assembled, an April 20, 2022 press release from DIA said.

“We are thrilled to bring this spectacular, historically significant Mughal album folio into the DIA’s Islamic gallery,” Katherine Kasdorf, associate curator of Arts of Asia and the Islamic World at the DIA, is quoted saying in the press release. “Since the light-sensitive nature of works on paper means it can only rarely go on view, we hope visitors will take the opportunity to enjoy the calligraphy side now and return later this year to see the portrait. The beautiful and sometimes playful details of both sides reward close looking.”

Image of the Folio from the Late Shah Jahan Album on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: courtesy DIA

Currently on view is the calligraphy, which Mughal artists framed with borders filled with a colorful design of scrolling grapevines inhabited by birds. To limit light exposure to the work on paper, the DIA, in July, will turn over the folio to display the opposite side, which features a portrait that may represent Sa‘id Khan Zafarjang, who served as governor of Kabul under Shah Jahan. The portrait – which is framed by borders with seven additional courtly figures against a ground of flowers painted in gold – will then be on display through the end of 2022.

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is considered one of the premier art museums in the United States and is home to more than 65,000 works that comprise a multicultural collection from ancient times through the 21st century.

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