Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire to be the British Library’s major autumn exhibition

Allavardi Khan on horseback. Artwork from Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire (c) British Library

  • 9 November 2012 – 2 April 2013

This autumn the British Library will explore one of the most powerful and splendid of all the world’s great dynasties with Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, from 9 November 2012 to 2 April 2013. The ‘Great Mogul’ seated on a jewel-encrusted throne is one of the most enduring images of India. But apart from this almost mythical ruler, the Mughal dynasty produced a great number of rulers of outstanding ability in statecraft and culture, whether in empire-building or as patrons of art and architecture. This exhibition will be the first to document the entire historical period, from the 16th to the 19th century, through more than 200 exquisite manuscripts and the finest paintings drawn almost exclusively from the British Library’s extensive heritage collection. www.bl.uk/mughalindia

Curated by Dr. Malini Roy, Curator of Visual Arts at the British Library, the exhibition will invite visitors into the sumptuous world of the Mughals, which at its peak stretched from Kabul and over most of the South Asian subcontinent. It will reveal the extravagant lives of the emperors, their strategic methods of managing their vast and culturally diverse empire and their active role as patrons of art, literature and sciences, as well as builders of legendary monuments such as the Taj Mahal. Behind the stunning visual imagery are dramatic stories of the empire, rife with poisonings, love affairs and a constant hunger for knowledge and power.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Akbar ordering the slaughter to cease in 1578 (pictured) – A folio from an imperial manuscript on the history of Emperor Akbar (r.1556-1605) attributed to the artist Miskina, circa 1595. One of the greatest rulers of the Indian subcontinent, an intellectual skilled in statecraft, Akbar was an advocate of understanding and inclusiveness of all religious faiths. This scene pictures Akbar in contemplation during an organised hunt; in a moment of divine or mystical intervention, he asks for the animals to be set free.
  • Squirrels in a plane tree (pictured) - An iconic masterpiece painted by Abu’l Hasan, circa 1605-08, a pre-eminent artist of the imperial court. Recognised by Emperors Akbar and Jahangir for his exceptional painterly skills, he was granted the titles Nadir al-‘Asr (‘Wonder of the Age’) and Nadir al-Zaman (‘Wonder of the Time’). This dynamic scene captures the naturalistic movement of squirrels fleeing from the huntsman attempting to climb the tree.
  • Prince Aurangzeb reports to Emperor Shah Jahan in durbar (pictured) – A historically important illustration featuring the Emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1627-58), famed for commissioning the Taj Mahal, enthroned inside his palace fortress at Lahore in 1649. In this durbar or official assembly at court, he receives his son Prince Aurangzeb, who stands on the left with his hand raised in salute. Less than 10 years after this encounter, Aurangzeb would take advantage of Shah Jahan’s fragile health and imprison him in the Agra Fort, launching the War of Succession against his brothers, and declare himself as emperor in 1659. The painting dates to 1650-55, the final years of Shah Jahan’s reign.
  • Portrait of Prince Dara Shikoh (pictured) – A newly identified portrait of Dara Shikoh (1615-59), the favourite son and heir-apparent of Emperor Shah Jahan (r.1627-58) attributed to the artist Murar, circa 1631-32. This portrait features in the only surviving album compiled by Dara Shikoh, a passionate connoisseur of the arts and scholar of religion. The album was personally dedicated by Dara Shikoh to his beloved wife Nadira Banu Begum in 1641-42; they were married in 1633.

Malini Roy, curator of the exhibition, comments: “We are so pleased to be displaying these stunning manuscripts, paintings, and jewelled objects from Mughal India, some never before exhibited, opening a window into a long-diminished world. The objects in our collection span four centuries, from the foundation of the Mughal dynasty by Babur in the 16th century, through the heights of the empire and the ‘Great’ Mughal emperors of the 17th century, into the decline and eventual collapse in the 19th century. It is with great pleasure that we are able to share our collection’s beauty with a wider audience.”

Mughal India will be accompanied by an exciting programme of events, including Late at the Library: Mughal Nites (Friday 9 November), an extraordinary night of music, performance and spectacle, inspired by parties in the Mughal court. Joining DJ Ritu and guests, hosting a Kuch Kuch party, will be British Library artist-in-residence Christopher Green, mehndi artists from Ash Kumar, dancers from Nutkut, installations, demonstrations, with a bar and Indian street food. Other events will include speakers such as Pankaj Mishra, Mimi Khavati and William Dalrymple. Please see below for further event information.

The British Library will also be running a Learning programme alongside the exhibitions, including in-gallery workshops for Primary and Secondary school groups and conferences for teachers

A beautiful accompanying book will be published to celebrate the launch of the exhibition, co-authored by J. P. Losty (Head of Visual Arts at the British Library for 34 years before retiring in 2005) and curator Malini Roy, featuring glorious reproductions of the finest works of Mughal art in the British Library’s collections.

Notes to Editors:

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire will run from Friday 9 November 2012 to Tuesday 2 April 2013.

Price: £9 / £7 and £5 concessions / Free for under 18's

Booking information

For further information please visit www.bl.uk and register for our e-what's on newsletter

Exhibition opening hours

Monday 10.00 – 18.00, Tuesday 10.00 – 20.00, Wednesday – Friday 10.00 – 18.00, Saturday 10.00 – 17.00, Sunday and English public holidays 11.00 – 17.00

All galleries are accessible by wheelchair. Information can be requested from Visitor Services staff on: T +44 (0)20 7412 7332.


An exciting programme of talks, discussions, film and performances will accompany the exhibition. These include:

Makings of an Empire: The Mark of the Mughals on South Asia

Friday 9 November 18.30 – 19.30

£7.50 / £5 concessions / Conference Centre

Among the most striking examples of Mughal heritage are the many beautiful buildings that were constructed in the Mughal style, where the merging of Persian and Indian influences created some of the world's best-known monuments. This combination of influences can also be seen in the arts, cuisine, fashion and language, as well as in thought, politics, warfare, religious attitudes and lifestyle. Join an esteemed panel of speakers to discuss the large and prominent mark left by the Mughals on the subcontinent: historian and broadcaster Michael Wood, author Vikram Chandra, journalist and author John Keay, and journalist Razia Iqbal.

Presented in association with DSC South Asian Literature Festival

Late at the Library: Mughal Nites

Friday 9 November 19.30 – 22.30

£7.50 / £5 concessions /Entrance Hall

As the exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire opens, enjoy an extraordinary night of music, performance and spectacle inspired by parties at the Mughal Palace. Joining DJ Ritu and guests, hosting a Kuch Kuch party, will be British Library artist-in-residence Christopher Green, mehndi artists from Ash Kumar, dancers from Nutkut, installations, demonstrations and lots more. A bar and Indian street food will also be available.

Presented in association with DSC South Asian Literature Festival

The Last Mughal in Words and Music

Friday 16 November

18.30 - 20.00

£7.50 / £5 concessions / Conference Centre

Celebrated author William Dalrymple reads from his award-winning book The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857, accompanied by North Indian vocalist Vidya Shah. This evocative evening celebrates the bygone era of India's last Mughals, bringing to life a world of emperors, poets, courtesans, politics, bayonets, intrigue and love through word, poetry and music.

From the Ruins of Empire

Monday 26 November 18.30 – 20.00

£7.50 / £5 concessions / Conference Centre

The Victorian period, often viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, was experienced by many as a catastrophe. Pankaj Mishra, author of the successful Temptations of the West, explores the historical fallout of the end of the Qing, Ottoman and Mughal Empires.

An evening of Sorcery and Seduction

Friday 7 December

18.30 – 20.00

£7.50 / £5 concessions / Conference Centre

Enjoy an enchanting evening as storyteller Seema Anand performs tales from the Mughal epic the Hamzanama, which tell of the exploits of intrepid warrior Amir Hamza. She is joined by award winning poet, Mimi Khavati, whose work is influenced by the ghazel tradition and by renowned vocalist, Najma Akhtar, to create an enthralling night of stories, poetry and music.


Learning programme

The Learning Team will be offering free exhibition workshops for Primary, Secondary
and Further Education students supporting the History and Art curricula. Two Continuing Professional Development conferences will be offered to teachers in partnership with The Guardian and the Schools History Project.

For further information:



T +44(0) 20 7412 7797


The British Library will publish an accompanying book, including glorious full-page reproductions of the finest works of Mughal art in the British Library’s collections.

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire will be published in November 2012.

£30.00 (HB) 9780712358705/ £19.95 (PB) 9780712358712, 256 pp


The British Library has worked in partnership with Fired Earth in the selection of colours to bring Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire vividly to life. A full list of the colours used in the exhibition will be available on request.

For more information visit www.firedearth.com or call 0845 366 0400

For more information contact:


The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.  



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