The Migration of Persian Artists to India in the Safavid Period
Tavoos Art Quarterly.No 8. Summer 2001
Shah ‘Abbas I, in a letter to the imprisoned Seal Keeper, Jalal-ed-Din Amir-Beik, unambiguously mentions a significant event of Safavid times, namely the Persians’ efforts at migrating to India.1 Although this course of events is also widely reflected in his contemporaries’ notes, and has been studied by many researchers, our knowledge in this regard is still scarce. At first glance, it may appear that the lack of direct evidence will prevent any significant headway to be made in this concern. Yet, only a small part of the texts and sources related to this subject have been investigated so far, and many relevant historic clues are yet unknown. Therefore, it appears that a wide-ranging systematic search in the texts and sources of this period can be fruitful. Hence, relying on existing documents, the present research attempts to examine the massive migration of Safavid artists to India, which reached its peak during the long reign of Shah Tahmasb, an era of crises that culminated in harsh social changes.
Generally speaking, no complete account of Shah Tahmasb’s personality and life is available, and we have to make do with the terse, incomplete and occasionally contradictory descriptions given by existing sources in order to reveal the face of an otherwise little known monarch. Sources record that he was almost eleven years old upon his accession to the throne in 930 AH / AD 1523.2 Almost all the sources of the time also unanimously record that, in his young age, the king was greatly attracted to the arts and artists, to the extent that he not only took painting and calligraphy lessons, but also promoted these arts among his courtiers. He kept to this policy in later years3.
As some sources indicate, the offspring of prominent families were educated at the court. In fact, they were being trained as future office-holders. Sharaf-Khan, who had been educated at the court, writes that the king had his generals’ and courtiers’ children brought to court and given a comprehensive education equal to that reserved for princes. Sharaf-Khan’s explanations show that, among the different curricular subjects, the king considered necessary for himself, the princes and his courtiers to take painting courses: “… As they reached the age of growth and discrimination, he taught them the martial arts, shooting with the bow, playing polo, galloping on horseback, and the rules of warfare and humanity, and he told them to also devote some of their time to painting, by which one acquires a straight taste.”4 At the time, art workshops affiliated to the court also existed in which manuscripts were illustrated for the king. These workshops undoubtedly constituted the country’s main center of cultural activity, as well as its highest center of art education, where young artists were trained by professors attached to the court on a permanent basis, who were often close confidants of the Shah. On the evidence of different sources, we know that the Shah himself also took courses with these professors. The Royal Library at Tabriz, together with its painting workshops, was directed by Kamal-ed-Din Behzad until 942 AH. Such great painters as Soltan-Mohammad, Aqa-Mirak, Mir-Mosavver, Doost-e Divaneh, and others were employed at the Royal Library.