Monday, November 21, 2011

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Mansur Turkey, 1612

The Victoria & Albert Museum

One doesn’t expect and Indian emperor to have a painting of a North American turkey in his collection of art. Yet, in 1612, this painting of a turkey was created for the Mughal emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-1627).

Emperor Jahangir requested his friend Muqarrab Khan to procure oddities of any kind at the port of Cambay, on the western coast. In 1612, a collection of exotic birds and animals caused quite a sensation in the emperor’s court.

Jahangir wrote: "as these animals appeared to me to be very strange, I both described them and ordered that painters should draw them in the Jahangir-nama ["Book of Jahangir,” the emperor's memoirs] so that the amazement that arose from hearing of them might be increased. One of these animals in body is larger than a peahen and smaller than a peacock. When it is in heat and displays itself, it spreads out its feathers like the peacock and dances about. Its beak and legs are like those of a cock. Its head and neck and the part under the throat are every minute of a different colour. When it is in heat it is quite red - one might say it had adorned itself with red coral - and after a while it becomes white in the same places and looks like cotton. It sometimes looks of a turquoise colour. Like a chameleon it constantly changes colour."

That’s the most romantic and poetic description of a turkey that I’ve seen in awhile.

The painting is signed by the most popular artist of the court Mansur. It was preserved in an album at the request of Jahangir who asked that floral borders be added to it. At some point Jahangir’s great album was dismembered, and the leaves were sold. This page was part of a group of folios bequeathed to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1921 by Lady Wantage.

No comments: