The Aesthetics of Memory: Mughal Albums Under Shahjahan (r. 1628-58) and Their Afterlives.
Access StatusFull text of the requested work is not available in DASH at this time ("dark deposit"). For more information on dark deposits, see our FAQ.
MetadataShow full item record
CitationGulkis, Bronwen. 2021. The Aesthetics of Memory: Mughal Albums Under Shahjahan (r. 1628-58) and Their Afterlives.. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation presents a reexamination of albums, the dominant format for displaying works of painting and calligraphy across the Islamic world, in the context of Mughal India. While it is generally recognized that Mughal albums differed from their Persian and Central Asian counterparts, the underlying causes for such changes, and their implication for the artistic culture of South Asia, has never been the topic of dedicated study. Furthermore, existing perspectives on the Mughal album have often emphasized a codicological approach at the expense of interpretive ones, treating the form as a succession of disembodied single pages which must be arranged and ordered to be made legible.
This dissertation instead examines key case studies of dispersed albums from the broad cultural ambit of the emperor Shahjahan (r.1628-1658). By treating the object histories of these dispersed folios as a source on how the albums were used and viewed, I propose a model of the Mughal album in this era as a site for negotiating new concepts of history, memory, or locality. Through these shifting modes of visuality and their relationship to acts of self-fashioning, I trace how the album format evolved from its origins as an apparatus of Persianate high culture to become a reflection of the South Asian artistic and political landscape. Furthermore, I posit that albums from the Shahjahani era established paradigms of collecting and display which formed the basis for later iterations of the South Asian album. In this way, the dissertation establishes a model for the Mughal album as one based on memory.
The first chapter is a close reading of an understudied Timurid calligraphy preface by the calligrapher Mir ʿAli (d. 1545) that appears as part of an album made for Shahjahan. Through this analysis, I show that this text provided a stylistic model for Mughal art history writing. I identify a corpus of related texts in other albums, and document how these were united by the phenomenological concept of the “trace” as argued in Mir ‘Ali’s work. Using this framework, I then interrogate the role of labels, captions, and inscriptions seen on imperial album folios. Treating these elements as a paratextual source on how the albums were used, I contrast them with descriptions of the visual arts in official histories to propose a reading of the imperial albums as an embodiment of the emperor’s sight and touch. An artistic corpus created for the onetime favorite prince Dara Shikoh (d. 1659), including his eponymous album, serves as the fulcrum for my argument. I demonstrate how these works bear material interventions centered on the subjectivity of the presumed future emperor as viewer, and connect the format of Dara Shikoh’s album to a previously unrecognized collection of smaller albums made for princes and nobles outside the imperial workshop centers. I trace the role of these albums in disseminating Mughal identity, ultimately leading to the diffusion of the Mughal style and the rise of a commercial art market for these folios in the eighteenth century.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368433
- FAS Theses and Dissertations