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Daswanth

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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture

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Daswanth

(fl. c. 1560; d. 1584).

Indian miniature painter. According to Abu῾l-Fazl, writing in the Ā῾īn-i Akbarī, the annals of the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605), Daswanth was the son of a palanquin-bearer (kahār) who worked in the royal workship. The emperor discovered his talent and sent him to the master painter ῾Abd al-Samad for training, and “in just a short time he became matchless in his time and the most excellent.” He is known mainly for his highly imaginative and original compositions, where the irrational tends to dominate the realistic. Contemporary writers described him as a madman, and Abu῾l-Fazl acknowledged that some critics preferred the more naturalistic work of the painter Basawan.

Daswanth's earliest known works are illustrations of the Tūtīnāma (“Tales of a parrot”; c.1556–61 or 1560–65; Cleveland, OH, Mus. A., MS. 62.279). Two paintings (fols. 32v and 37v) show marginal inscriptions (partly damaged) naming Daswanth as the sole artist, while a third (fol. 32r) can be attributed to him. Though these are immature works, his talent is evident. The Monkey Biting the Prince (fol. 32v), for instance, is a lively painting that skilfully captures the monkey's unexpected action and also the startled responses of the prince, attendants and servants, including the astonished cook who looks up from his pots. All three paintings are characterized by refined, slightly dry brushwork. On stylistic grounds, 19 paintings in the great Hamzanāma project (“Tales of Hamza”; 1558–73; dispersed) as well as individual paintings in the Anwār-i Suwaylī (“Lights of Canopus”; 1570; London U., SOAS; ms. 10102) have been attributed to his hand. Daswanth's name is inscribed beside a single illustration in the Tīmūrnāma (“History of Timur”; c.1580; Bankipur, Patna, Khuda Bakhsh Lib.), where he is desiganted as the designer of the painting. Under contemporary procedures the color was filled in by a second, usually lesser, artist. The work shows him heavily indebted to the style of his teacher ῾Abd al-Samad.

Most of Daswanth's mature works (some 30 known paintings) are found in the great Razmnāma (“Book of wars”; 1582–6; Jaipur, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Mus., MS. AG. 1638–1850), a Persian translation of the Hindu epic the Mahābhārata commissioned by Akbar. Appropriate for a master painter, he is again named only as the designer of paintings completed by other hands. Nevertheless, it is clear he developed exceptional skill in the depiction of other-worldly and terrifying scenes. Figures are often weightless and proportions naturalistically inconsistent; European techniques of spatial depth, of such interest to other Mughal artists, are ignored. The effect is often fantastic. This sensitivity for the unearthly is a strong element in early Mughal painting that virtually disappears as an important element in Mughal painting after Daswanth's death, at about which time the Emperor became more interested in historical themes. The one major later work known to be by Daswanth working alone is a drawing, Holy Men (Windsor Castle, Royal Lib.), which shows a seated ascetic, drawn with great intensity, surrounded by six disciples.

Daswanth ended his life by suicide. According to the Akbarnāma, Abu῾l-Fazl's history of Akbar's reign: “All at once melancholy took possession of him, and he wounded himself with a dagger. After two days he paid back the loan of life, and grief came to the hearts of connoisseurs.”

Bibliography

  • EWA
  • P. Chandra: The Tūtī-nāma of the Cleveland Museum of Art (Graz, 1976)
  • M. C. Beach: “The Mughal Painter Daswanth,” A. Orient., xiii (1982), pp. 121–33
  • A. K. Das: “Daswant: His Last Drawings in the Razmnama,” Marg, xlix/4 (1998), pp. 52–67
  • The Adventures of Hamza (exh. cat. by J. Seyller; Washington, DC, Sackler Gal.; New York, Brooklyn Mus., and elsewhere; 2002–3)
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