Below is text from one section of Douglas Galbi’s work, “Sense in Communication.”  This work includes text and images.  Some images may be missing (due to use restrictions) or improperly formatted below.  The full work in pdf format, as well as other text sections, are available at


II. A Masterpiece of Sensuous Communication: The Hamzanama of Akbar


An artifact produced in the royal atelier of the Mughal emperor Akbar, the Hamzanama of Akbar originally included 1400 huge folios.  The folios were arranged in 14 volumes, each kept in a large box.  On one side of a folio, within a large, gold-flecked and color-toned paper frame, typically was a colorful painting about 69 centimeters long and 54 centimeters wide (about 27 by 21 inches).  The painting was done on cotton fabric that formed a main support for the heavy, multi-layer folio.  The other side of the folio was usually a bordered rectangle framing 19 lines of Arabic script on gold-flecked paper.  Today the known remains of the Hamzanama of Akbar consist of about 170 folios, spread out among art collections around the world.[1]  Even for a museum visitor with little understanding of the work, the painting on just one folio is apt to be enchanting; 68 Hamzanama folios, which were brought together for a recent exhibition, make for a tremendously impressive array of colors and forms.[2]

      The Hamzanama of Akbar exemplifies objective sensuous choices that support diverse, subjective senses of presence.  Akbar sought unconventional truth as an energetic ruler engaged in a wide range of activities in a culturally and religiously diverse empire.  By Akbar's time, the adventures of Hamza, a romance that never took a canonical form, had attracted the interest of diverse persons across the Islamic world for at least five hundred years.  In directing the creation of the Hamzanama, Akbar invested greatly in enhancing the sensuousness of the adventures of Hamza.  In providing complex, loosely organized paintings and open, wide-ranging verbal resources, the Hamzanama enlarged and enriched the possibilities for making sense of presence in a performance of the adventures of Hamza.  The Hamzanama testifies to the importance of personal activity and circumstances, independent of narrative and information-transfer, for making sense of presence. 


A. Akbar and his Culture


Akbar, a Muslim conqueror, built a vast, rich empire in south Asia about 450 years ago.  Akbar’s military victories brought him control over an area spanning parts of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, south through the Deccan of the Indian peninsula, and east through all of Bengal.  He established capital cities in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri (north-central India) and Lahore (Pakistan).  Akbar excelled at governing as well as conquering.  When he died his empire was collecting more than sixty-five times the revenue of his English contemporary, Queen Elizabeth I.[3]  Aspects of his administrative system were incorporated into British colonial rule and remain in today’s democratic India.

      Akbar’s empire was not only great in size, wealth, and administrative organization, but also in humanistic ideals and practices.  Akbar, a descendent of the Mongols who invaded south and western Eurasia, knew intimately the Islamic knowledge and practices that had been a key basis for civilization in much of the world for almost a millennium.  Akbar supported religious freedom for his subjects, the majority of whom were Hindu.  Hindus could build their own temples and organize their own public worship, Hindus had important positions in Akbar’s government, and Hindu artists and Hindu culture contributed significantly to major projects that Akbar sponsored.  Akbar’s court also incorporated considerable Persian culture, and Persian was the language used in the administration of government.  Akbar and leading figures in his empire also explored and learned from the culture of the Ottoman Empire and the culture of the kingdoms of Central Asia, Western Europe, and China.

      Akbar’s correspondence with European leaders of his time shows how much his mentality differed from theirs.  King Philip II of Spain vigorously pursued a hundred-year old Spanish policy of expelling, burning, or forcibly converting to Catholicism Jews, Muslims, and non-Catholic Christians.  To Philip II in 1582 G.C., Akbar explained:[4]

As most men are fettered by bonds of tradition, and by imitating the ways followed by their fathers, ancestors, relatives and acquaintances, everyone continues, without investigating the arguments and reasons, to follow the religion in which he was born and educated, thus excluding himself from the possibility of ascertaining the truth, which is the noblest aim of the human intellect.  Therefore we associate at convenient seasons with learned men of all religions, thus deriving profit from their exquisite discourses and exalted aspirations.[5]

Akbar requested that Jesuit priests come to his court so that he could learn from them. Pope Gregory XIII had little respect for these and others of Akbar’s beliefs.  About two months before Akbar wrote the above words to Philip II, Pope Gregory wrote to Emperor Akbar, beginning thus:

May the Merciful God, who deigned to inspire you to listen to the teaching of the

evangelical doctrine, transfer you as soon as possible from darkness to light.[6]

After then pointing out that Akbar’s whole earthly kingdom was not worth the salvation of his soul, the Pope noted:

Life is short and human condition uncertain.  See that you do not neglect your own salvation or appear to fail to the grace of God that calls you.  Meanwhile, do not brush aside this thought, and continue listening, as you did heretofore, to the aforesaid priests…[7]

A year later, to the Jesuit Provincial in Goa, Akbar wrote about allowing a Jesuit priest to leave his court:

I have much love for the Father [Father Rudolf Acquaviva, a Jesuit priest on the first Jesuit mission to Akbar]; and, considering that he is wise and versed in the laws, I desire to have him every hour in conversation with me, and for this reason I refused him the permission.  But as Your Paternity asked it of me by letter several times, I did so and gave him permission.  And as my intention is that our friendship should go on increasing more day by day, it behooves your Paternity to labour on your side towards preserving it, by sending Father Rudolf back to me with some other Fathers; and I would like this to be with the least possible delay, for I desire that the Fathers of this Order be with me, because I am delighted with them.[8]

Akbar delighted in conversation and friendship across the differences of Islam and Christianity.  European leaders, in contrast, were not interested in important goods that Akbar and the people in his empire showed them.

     About Akbar’s time and in rather less challenging circumstances, Europeans were massacring each other in a way that the European tradition of reason still struggles to understand.  In Paris in 1572, beginning on St. Bartholomew’s Day and continuing for a few days, Catholic mobs brutally killed Huguenots – their neighbors, Christians like them, but Protestants.  The madness subsequently spread to the countryside, where some Catholics eagerly found reason to kill their Huguenot neighbors.  In the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, persons in various religious and political groups – Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist – fought battles across the German countryside and brought death and destruction in a way that cannot be easily summarized in terms of parties, purposes, or results.  

      Persons in the European intellectual tradition who describe and explain these events continue to differ about facts, causes, and effects.  One current, popular encyclopedia indicates that 67,000 persons were killed in provincial violence following the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, while a recent scholarly book, drawing on an earlier peer-reviewed article, estimates the number at 3,000.[9]  An important on-line encyclopedia states that two-thirds of Germany’s population perished in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), while a recent compilation of global population statistics indicates that Germany’s population in 1700 was 18% less than it would have been if it had followed population growth trends in the rest of Western Europe from 1600 to 1700.[10]  For the most part, discussions of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the Thirty Years’ War have played counterpoint to the development of Western rationality.[11]  These horrible historical events continue to resonate strongly in contemporary Western consciousness.  These grave, self-inflicted wounds have strongly shaped subsequent evolution of European culture and patterns of thought.[12]

      The global legacy of these wounds can be an impediment to empathetically understanding Akbar and his artists’ choices.  One scholar sees in Akbar a “convinced rationalist” and perceives “rational free-thinking” to be widespread among the educated elite of Akbar’s empire.[13]  Rational free-thinking naturally opposes superstition, bigotry, and dogma.[14]  One can indeed find among the elite of Akbar’s empire examples of late twentieth century Western post-modern thinking: true and false are merely subjective, and “Islam and non-Islam is the same in the free man’s view.”[15] From this perspective, the fight for power through ideas is more important than a shared quest for truth.  Thus this summary:

The greatness of Akbar’s age lies in the very fact that it enriched India with brilliant intellectuals and thinkers, eloquent writers, uncompromising fighters for ‘the idea.’[16]

Rational free-thinking seems to mean here, if it means anything at all, fighting over certain ideas, which are representations that exist independent of persons.  The winning idea determines what most persons perceive to be true, which means in this account what is true.  This construction of rational free-thinking foregrounds claims about the connection between representations and truth.  It links pursuit of truth to war, harangues, representational struggles, and the need for boundaries in thought and discussion to prevent destruction.  It is deeply connected to European history, and European wounds.

      This Europeans legacy has become a legacy of the whole world.  Concern about the relationship between truth and representation has become the dominant way to think about art and many other aspects of life.  A recent study of the reception of European art in Asia and Latin America, 1542-1773, stated:

it is clear that most people were impressed primarily by the lifelike qualities of European art.  Even in indigenous-language texts, references to mirrors abound, and the comment is made repeatedly that European figures look as though they are breathing, moving, and occupying real space….  It seems, therefore, that above all it was the Renaissance technique of pictorial realism which gave European art appeal to the rest of the world.[17]

Akbar’s empire assigned many persons and much material goods to painting.  Mughal painters under Akbar were highly cultured and technically skilled.  However, after several decades of interaction with Europeans and their art, one of Akbar’s contemporaries and the official historian of his empire wrote:

the European painters…have attained world-wide fame.  The minuteness of detail, the general finish, the boldness of execution, etc. now observed in pictures, are incomparable; even inanimate objects look as if they had life….

…painters, especially those of Europe, succeed in drawing figures expressive of the conceptions which the artist has of any of the mental states, so much so, that people may mistake a picture for a reality.[18]

This evaluation of European painting is connected to a much more general European understanding of the relationship between truth and representation.  Such an evaluation is more a description of the terms of European pre-eminence than an explanation of it.

      Respect for truth almost surely shaped the choices that Akbar and his artists made in producing the Hamzanama, but Akbar and his artists may not have thought about truth and representation in the way that Europeans and much of the world now do.  In his letter to Philip II of Spain, Akbar referred to “the truth, which is the noblest aim of the human intellect.”[19]  Akbar preceded his point about the fetters of tradition with this statement:

although we have brought the dominions of several great princes under our subjection, – the administration and amalgamation whereof engrosses our intellect, because we are bound to promote the welfare and happiness of all our subjects, – nevertheless, – Allah be praised – the purpose of all our activity, the head and front of all we do, is a desire to meet with divine approbation, and to discover that which is true.[20]

European paintings were first brought to Akbar’s court in 1580.  It is unlikely that they immediately transformed how Akbar and his artists understood their quest for truth.  Moreover, Akbar’s choice to produce the Hamzanama, and most of the general artistic decisions relating to that artifact, were probably made about 1557.[21]  Both the printing press and the battles of the Reformation in Europe were then unknown to Akbar and his court.[22]  Given today the world-wide weight of European history and European wounds, the sensuous choices incorporated in the Hamzanama offer both a challenge and an opportunity to see and understand more.

      Akbar relished sense of the world.  When the Jesuit priests asked Akbar to put in writing the permission he gave them to build a church near his court, “he answered that this was unnecessary in a place where he resided, in as much as his presence was living writing.”[23]  When Akbar received volumes of the Jesuits' Bible that he had requested, “he held them in his hands and publicly kissed them, and placed them on his head....”[24]  A Jesuit priest described Akbar's behavior in their prayer room, which was “well-arranged,” meaning full of artifacts of Catholic spirituality:

removing his cap or turban, kneeling on the ground with great devotion, he prayed before the picture of Christ and of the Virgin, venerating thrice, once in our manner, the other in that of the Muslims and the third in the Hindu fashion, that is to say, prostrate, saying that God should be adored with every form of adoration.[25]

Akbar had thirteen wives and kept thousands of women in the women's quarters of his palace.[26]  Thus his sexual relations may have been slightly less extensive than those of Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest U.S. basketball players, who estimated that over his life he had sex with 20,000 women.[27]  Akbar reportedly enjoyed telling stories about Hamza in the women's quarters.[28]  Such storytelling sessions may have been associated with sex.  More generally, Akbar enjoyed the sensuous richness of a full range of human activities:

The King is considered by some to be mad, because he is very dextrous in all jobs, because I have even seen him making ribbons like a lace-maker, and filing, sawing, working very hard; he is the whole day with deer, pigeons, cocks, birds, cages, dances, fights of wild elephants, wild buffaloes, fights among men, mock quarrels and claims, and other pastimes; he does not see a thing without trying to get a similar one, and in the end everything goes through his hands.[29]

Thus Akbar sought sense across sensory modes and in a broad range of activities. 

B. The Adventures of Hamza


The Hamzanama of Akbar incorporates the adventures of Hamza.  These stories have existed in oral and written literature for more than a thousand years.[30]  Hamza’s home is Sassanian Iran.  Battles there between the forces of Islam and the infidels are an important motif of the adventures of Hamza.  The battles typically include single combat among warriors sent out to represent the opposing armies that line the battlefield.  Islam always wins in the end, with the fate of the infidels being either enthusiastic embrace of the true religion, forced, though sincere, conversion, or death.  Typically in one part of the story Hamza travels to another world, allies with some fantastic creatures, and battles others.  Another motif is sudden infatuation of a woman for a man, or a man for a woman.  Cross-dressing and various forms of trickery are also common motifs.  These motifs have many connections to Persian history and to other oral and written literature that was available to Akbar’s court.[31] 

      The adventures of Hamza have remarkably indistinct temporal, geographic, and narrative boundaries.[32]  Historical seeds for Hamza tales may have been the lives of Hamza b. ‘Abd al-Muţţalib and Hamza b. ‘Abd Allah.  The former was born in Mecca in 567 G.C. and was the paternal uncle of the last Prophet of Islam, usually written in Islamic works as Mohammed, Peace be Upon Him.  This Hamza distinguished himself as a warrior in single combat with polytheists and died fighting for Islam.  The latter Hamza lived in Persia about two hundred years later.  He too was an Islamic military leader.  He led a Persian insurrection against the Abbasid caliph and mounted military campaigns to India and China.  The first written text of the adventures of Hamza was reportedly created about 1200 years ago.[33]  The adventures of Hamza, set with Hamza's home being Persia, were circulating widely in oral and written Persian in Persia about 1000 years ago.  Over subsequent years, the adventures of Hamza spread in oral and written form in languages and places throughout the Islamic world, including Sudan, Turkey, India, Malaysia, and Java. 

      The adventures of Hamza never acquired a canonical narrative expression.  Different recensions and tellings of Hamza’s adventures include different characters, different episodes, and different thematic emphases.  Abstracted from time, place, storyteller, and listeners, the adventures of Hamza mean not much more than a romance about an ancient, male Islamic warrior-hero named Hamza.  Yet in a coffee-house in Turkey about twenty years ago, a traditional Turkish storyteller took almost ten hours to tell the tale of Hamza.[34]  He told a story with many but diffuse and jumbled connections to stories told under Hamza's name in different places over the past thousand years.  His listeners would undoubtedly recognize this story if he told it again, which he could do, because he knew it well.

      Akbar was familiar with the adventures of Hamza as a traditional oral performance.  Akbar’s court historian recorded that, after an elephant hunt in the evening in 1564, Akbar:

having ensnared the intended prey and satisfied the cup of desire, sat upon that exalted throne, and graciously commanded those present to be seated; then for the sake of delight and pleasure he listened for some time to Darbar Khan's stories of Amir Hamza.[35]

Recent scholarship indicates that 1564 was about six years into the fifteen-year project of producing the Hamzanama.[36]  Since the Hamzanama was a monumental work, use of part of it in storytelling would have been noteworthy.  That the performance took place while the Hamzanama was being produced suggests that telling the adventures of Hamza was a common event.  The gathering of the court and the anticipation of the effects of the storytelling also suggest familiarity with the story, as does the lack of concern for narrative closure in listening.  The prelude to the storytelling – the action, risk, and success of an elephant hunt – probably informed the choice of telling the adventures of Hamza. 

      Akbar and his court were familiar with a wide range of literature, both oral and written.  Akbar had a large imperial library with separate sections for Hindu, Persian, Greek, Kashmirian, and Arabic books.  Persian books included Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh epic, Sadi’s Bustan and Gulistan, works by Jami, while Indian works included the Sanskrit epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, and famous love stories and fables.  There were also books on mathematics, science, Yoga, and history.[37]  Akbar himself could not read, but he regularly enjoyed having books read to him.[38]  Moreover, a court storyteller, Darbar Khan, was closely associated with Akbar.[39]  This suggests that Akbar regularly heard recitals of traditional oral literature, which was a thriving popular art form in Persia at that time.

      Akbar’s investment in the adventures of Hamzanama, although materially enormous like Shah Tahmasp’s earlier investment in the Shahnameh, differed greatly in sense.  The adventures of Hamza are adaptable, popular stories that have successfully encompassed many different persons and places.  The Shahnameh, also known as “The Book of Kings,” is an Iranian national epic.  Written by Ferdowsi in Persia in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, it has a canonical text that serves as a standard source of Iranian cultural memory and pride.[40]  Shah Tahmasp ordered the production of a magnificent illustrated manuscript of the Shahnameh about thirty years before Akbar initiated work on the Hamzanama.  Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnameh is an artifact of Iranian national greatness.[41]  Akbar’s Hamzanama is much more universally personal.  Understanding Akbar’s investment in the adventures of Hamza requires appreciation for universal bodily values in making sense.


C. Multi-sensory Stimulation


The Hamzanama was constructed to be used as a complement to oral storytelling.  The large size of the Hamzanama’s paintings makes them visually interesting at much greater distance than usual manuscript paintings.  While Persian illustrated manuscripts typically integrate text into the paintings, most Hamzanama folios follow an Indian manuscript style of having a painting on one side of a folio and text on the other side.[42]  However, unlike the folios that in a typical Indian illustrated manuscript, almost every Hamzanama folio has a painting on one side.  The Hamzanama is organized episodically, with a painting on the front of one folio corresponding to text on the back of another.[43]  Each text page typically includes a formal opening, so that a text page and the corresponding painting define an episodic structure for the story as a whole.  Available evidence suggests that the folios were not bound, but kept in boxes.  An assistant could display the painting on one folio while the storyteller, assisted by the text on another folio, narrated an episode.[44]  The audience for a story told with the Hamzanama might never see any text.  The paintings and texts were created and combined to be tools for oral storytelling.

      The Hamzanama stimulates sense across sensory modes and at an early level of making sense.  As told in Akbar's court, the adventures of Hamza drew upon the oral tradition of Persian epics.  A study of this tradition noted:

Persian epic literature is a literature of action.  The emphasis is not on human character development or accidents of fate, but on human action.  The characters are generally preparing to fight, actually fighting, or celebrating after a fight.  Whatever they are doing, action is the focus of the story.[45]

A focus on action connects senses, such as sight and sound: “The lines of epic poetry should ring like a sword on a shield, or a hammer on an anvil, not like a carillon in a bell tower.”[46] 

      Episodes in the Hamzanama are about this kind of action.  Consider this text from the Hamzanama:

While they [Hamza (also called the Amir) and Umar] were walking, they came across the Jahannuma Tower.  By chance, Ghazanfar was atop the tower drinking wine with a group of ill-starred infidels.  When his gaze fell upon the Amir and Umar, he cursed them loudly.  Umar cursed him in return, but the Amir said, “If you are a man, come down and let us grapple to see who will win a match of courage.” [47]

The corresponding Hamzanama painting shows in the upper left Ghazanfar atop a tower.[48]  He holds a mace in one hand and with the other points to Hamza, who is sitting confidently on a regally dressed horse in the lower right of the painting.  Ghazanfar appears to have one leg over the rampart of the tower.  His leg stretches toward Hamza as if Ghazanfar could stride down through the air to confront him.  Even these two dramatic forms don't stand out sharply, because the whole painting is “abuzz with giddy agitation” of persons, architectural forms, trees, water, and


rocks.[49]  The experience of this episode of the Hamzanama was probably like that which attracts a wide audience to professional wrestling today.[50] 

      The description of action is a well-developed art in traditional Persian epic storytelling.  The story of Ghazanfar and Hamza evolves into a well-recognized pattern of action:

[Ghazanfar] immediately went down from the tower, and as he approached the Sahid-Qiran [Amir Hamza] he aimed a blow with his sword at the Amir's head.  As the sword was coming down the Amir stretched out his champion's hand and tightened his grip on the pommel of his sword, and as he attacked he drew his sword and said, “Take this!” Ghazanfar raised his shield over his head.  The Amir reached under the shield, grabbed his collar, and pulled him down to his knees.  With his other hand the Amir reached for the dagger in his belt, lifted Ghazanfar from the ground, lifted him up, and then hurled him to the ground so hard that his vile body lay flat.  The Amir then tied his hands and neck.  Still Ghazanfar refused to give up and cursed repeatedly.[51]

This type of action offers to the storyteller an opportunity to engage in naqqali, a distinctive storytelling style.  In a section of naqqali,

[the storyteller's] voice may change in pitch and volume.  His phrases become shorter and are spoken more quickly, and his gestures more tense and expressive.  If the passage is rhythmical...he may emphasize the rhythm with short chops of his hand or motions of his head, signalling climaxes with loud clapping of his hands.[52]

When Ghazanfar hits the ground in the above text, one can easily make sense of a thump.  In a storytelling performance, it might even have been made with a drum or other musical instruments.[53]  The Hamzanama thus supports artfully created sensuousness.

      In another episode, gardeners captured in their garden Zumurrud Shah, a gigantic enemy of Hamza.  The related painting shows Zummurrud Shah's naked upper torso placed within a large, black, hairy circle.[54]  He is usually depicted in a regal red costume and wearing gold earrings.[55]  The painting as a whole has a brownish tone, with almost none of the bright reds and whites seen in other Hamzanama paintings.  The next events have little narrative significance, but they do make sense:

They carried that ass away and put him in chains in a barn.  That evening the cows came home, and Zumurrud Shah was lying unconscious when an enraged cow struck its horns in the ground and mooed.  By divine destiny the horn went into Zumurrud Shah's nose and tore it.  Zummurrud Shah jumped up, and when he saw his condition he became upset.  As he was weeping over his miserable state and wretched fate, a cow shat on him.  Rubbing his broken head, he fell under the cows' legs.[56]

The details of the cow mooing and Zumurrud Shah jumping up are opportunities for sensuous theatricality.  The color tone and visual design of the painting also evoke a smell distinctively associated with the circumstances of these events.


D. Freedom of Sense from Narrative


The sense of the Hamzanama is not closely related to a given narrative.  The initial artistic director of the Hamzanama was Mir Sayyid Ali, an Iranian-born artist who had been a junior member of the royal atelier that produced the magnificent Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp.[57]  Other painters from Persia also worked on the Hamzanama.[58]  An important Persian influence apparent in the Hamzanama paintings is a freedom of sense:

Persian paintings seldom have single centers of interest.  Their compositions do not say, for example, “Look at this hero slaying a dragon!”  Rather, they urge us to look beyond the narrative subject and to follow rhythms, shapes, and colors sequentially.[59]

To the flat, geometrical ornament of Persian painting, Indian-born artists who painted most of the Hamzanama added a new dynamism from the Indian traditions of painting:

constantly restless motion, so vivid that it dissolves the very surface on which it is painted.  Everything is swept up by this motion, whether animate or inanimate, as though impelled by a hidden inner energy.  Rocks swell out of the earth, boulder tumbling over boulder, crag over crag; the waters swirl and twist in dizzying eddies; foliage bursts out of trees like light from fireworks.[60]

In Persian epics like the adventures of Hamza, narrative descriptions of nature are minimal – usually only sunsets, sunrises and dark nights.[61]  In the Hamzanama, the elaborate, energetic depictions of crowds, built structures, and nature often overwhelm the characters and action related to the text.  The paintings of the Hamzanama thus open up space for sense beyond the verbal narration.[62]

      Visual conventions of text reading can affect the position and design of paintings in illustrated manuscripts.  The official and dominant language of Akbar's court was Persian.  Persian text, unlike English text, is read from right to left across lines and pages.  In the paintings in Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnameh, predominate horizontal lines of action almost always flow from right to left.  In unusual cases where action flows from left to right, the narrative often suggests reverse action.[63]  Most of the paintings in Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnameh are placed on the right page of the open book, and the text boxes are generally placed beginning from the upper right corner, across and down to the lower left corner.[64] 

      The Hamzanama paintings do not follow these visual conventions.  Action is equally likely to flow left-to-right and right-to-left.[65]  Page numbers place the Hamzanama illustrations on the left when the folios are arranged as an open book.[66]  Among the few paintings that have text boxes, one has a box on the lower left, and one has a box on the lower right.[67]  One scholar has noted that the Hamzanama paintings “give the impression of having been made by men used to paint on walls or other vast surfaces, a practice firmly rooted in Indian tradition.”[68]  One of the leading Persian-born artists who worked on the Hamzanama painted the walls of a private apartment.[69]  Paintings in the Hamzanama resonate with the perceptual routines of life, not text.

      Introductory phrases in the Hamzanama text evoke non-linear, multi-modal sense.  To open a new section or to change subjects, popular Persian romances in Akbar's time used conventional phrases such as “Now the relators of news and the narrators of secrets thus relate that...”[70]  Each Hamzanama text page has an opening phrase.  Some are minimal: “The narrator says….”  But others are elaborately sensuous:

·         Mellifluous narrators and creative depictors have thus drawn the beautiful face of speech with the pen of exposition…

·         The embroiderer of the brocaded pattern wove a legend thus on his China silk…

·         The versifier of this nest of secrets speaks thus from behind the curtain…

·         The teller of this exalted tale draws onto the string pearls of rubies…

·         He who tuned the harp of meaning began his words thus…

·         The master poet thus opens the lid of this treasure…[71]

The Hamzanama text, even within a page, consists of loosely related events that a storyteller could choose to pass over, or to explore further.  This makes the text like a brocaded fabric, a nest woven from unknown strands, colorful pearls, strings of a harp, or treasure in a box.  The Hamzanama anticipates cybertext, but with less emphasis on ergodic verbal narrative and more on sensuous effects.[72]

      The Hamzanama text has almost no over-all narrative style and direction.  The text varies abruptly from flat narrative to dialogue, with florid verses occasionally inserted with little textual motivation.  The text provides few narrative clues for ordering the existing folios, and about a third of them cannot even be placed within a crude partition of the fourteen consecutive volumes that were produced.[73]  Many of the paintings and much of the text of the Hamzanama have little to do with Hamza's life.  Episodes of battle, courtly life and love, magic, and trickery, repeated in vibrant and fantastic ways, push the story along, but often in no apparent general direction other than continued conversions of infidels and victories against them.  While there are many characters in the story, they all are of a few types generic to traditional Persian epics.[74]  Characters are introduced and discarded frequently, and it is often difficult to identify a figure in a painting with a specific character in the text.[75]

Table 1

Textual Breadth

of the Hamzanama


Text Page



























      Even a short section of consecutive text pages from the Hamzanama shows little unity in persons and places.  The longest, readily available sequence of Hamzanama text pages is pages 20-27 in volume 11.[76]  Table 1 shows for each of these pages the number of places where an action occurs, and the number of distinctively named characters who are the subjects of action.  The median number of places of action is five, and the median number of named actors is twelve.  Yet a Hamzanama text page in English translation has on average only about 350 words, slightly more than the average on one text page of a recent Penguin verse edition of the Odyssey.[77]  Eight randomly selected passages of this length in the Odyssey covered one place and three characters (medians for sampled passages).  Actors have considerable persistent through the text of the Odyssey.  In the Hamzanama, by contrast, actors change rapidly.  Across text pages 20-27 of the Hamzanama, 58 named persons are subjects of action, and 44 of those persons appear on only one text page.

      While the Hamzanama’s text is often difficult to understand as narrative, it does make sense.  For example, one text page ends thus:

Kayhur grabbed the leg of Qasim's horse, and anyone other than Qasim would have fallen from the horse.  When Qasim saw this, he leapt from his horse.  Kayhur tore the horse apart, put the horse's leg in his mouth, and started to chew it.  The men on both sides stood still.  When night fell they withdrew.[78]

Why is Kayhur, who in the corresponding painting looks like merely a large human being, chewing on the horse's leg?[79]  Why would an episode end like this?  As narrative, the last two sentences mundanely deflate the bizarre drama of Kayhur’s action.  In performance, the audience might see the storyteller miming Kayhur’s chewing on the horse’s leg.  They might stand still in horror or amazement.  They might then disperse to return again for the next episode of the performance.  This text seems more like part of a dramatic script, with the audience as the men on both sides, than like part of a narrative.

      The Hamzanama texts contain many sensuous effects not distinguished in the narrative.  Consider this passage:

“Give me permission to cut off the perpetrator's head,” said Umar.  The Amir did not agree.  Umar put the point of his dagger against his breast and said, “If you don't give me permission, I will destroy myself.”  The Amir gave in, and Umar departed.[80]

The storyteller might say only that Amir reluctantly allowed Umar to pursue the perpetrators.  Or the storyteller might make high drama out of Umar's determination to kill himself if he is not allowed to kill the perpetrator.  The text conflates both of these possibilities in one flatly narrated passage. 

      Read without anticipation of elaboration in performance, the Hamzanama text often makes little sense.  One passage reports in the manner of a short news summary what might be the plot of a rich romance:

In short, the two [a girl and Mihrat, a male] left the sea together and went to the girl's garden, where they reveled.  One day the girl's brother, Devran son of Kisar, came in.  The girl hid Mihrat under the throne.  However, Mihrat sneezed, and the brother realized he was there.  The girl ran away.  Mihrat was seized, brought forward, and condemned to death.[81]

This passage quickly arcs from sex through a sneeze to a death sentence, all in the same flat reporting.  In performance, the storyteller might evoke senses of desire, humor, and horror. 

      Hamzanama paintings sometimes depict passages tangential to what seems to be the primary narrative direction of the associated text.  Four consecutive text pages advance the story of Prince Ibrahim's and Ghazanfar's rival quests for Khwarmah, whom they both love.  A painting facing the second of these text pages depicts an event involving Mahiya and Zambur, spies for Prince Ibrahim:

As for Mahiya, she saw that it was late and she was waiting for Zambur to return.  When a long time had passed she got upset.  She put on her veil and boots and went outside the house, looking all through the marketplace until she came to that place.  There she saw that someone [Zambur] was suspended upside down and a group of men had been drinking wine.  The utensils of the party were scattered, and the participants were lying all over the place.  She went forward and, recognizing Zambur, set him free.  Then she drew a knife from her belt and cut off the heads of all Gharrad's companions.  She hung Gharrad up in Zambur's place and went back home with Zambur.[82]

The painting shows Mahiya cutting off a sleeping man's head, six other dead men with their necks cut, Zambur hanging upside down in a doorway, and Gharrad still sleeping nearby.[83]  While the painting impressively portrays a forceful Muslim woman, it and the associated story have little to do with the rival quests for a beloved.

      The text sets out events that defy social and narrative conventions to achieve immediate sensuous effects.  For example, the Zoroastrian chief Malik Tyson captured the Muslim Prince Sa'id, and sent him to Ki'al Man-Eater's island, where, “if a stranger appears, they will eat him.”[84]  This setting of mortal confrontation leads to events with much different sense:

The narrator says that Prince Sa'id was brought before Ki'al, who had a daughter named Barghal.  When she saw Sa'id, she fell in love with him.  However, when Ki'al saw Sa'id, he said, “Bring a skewer and roast this human!”

    “Malik Taysun has sent this one for safe-keeping,” said Barghal.

    “Then what should be done?” asked Ki'al.

    “He should be put in chains in the prison,” she replied.

    Ki'al said to Silaq Man-Eater, “I entrust him to you.  Keep him in chains.  And he took the prince away and put him in chains in the prison.[85]

On Ki’al Man-Eater’s island, focus immediately shifts to Kial’s daughter Barghal, who appears to be the person really in charge there.  The narrative bounces into a quirky love story:

Barghal, however, was beside herself with love for the prince.  Smiling, she waited patiently until it was night.  She went to the prison gate, killed all the guards, rescued Prince Sa'id Farrukh-Nizhad, and took him to her house, where she said, “O Prince, I have given my heart to you.  Marry me.”

    “My beauty,” said Sa'id, “whenever I see my mother and father, I will grant your wish.” Barghal was patient.

Barghal, clearly a no-nonsense sort of gal, might be expected to have little sympathy for Sa'id's concern to do nothing without first informing his parents.  But Barghal was patient.  She was also crafty when it came to dealing with her father:

The next day the guards went to Ki'al and said, “Last night your daughter came to the prison, killed all the guards, and made away with the prisoner.”
    Ki'al summoned his daughter and asked her about it.  She said, “Yes, when he was brought before you and you ordered him to be roasted, I was greatly inclined toward him.  I kept you from doing it.  Last night I went and took him out of prison, roasted him, and ate him.”  Ki'al accepted this.

While Barghal easily deceived her father, she had no luck in changing Sa'id's mind:

Nonetheless, every night she came to Sa'id and repeated her demand.  Sa'id gave her the same answer until the girl got fed up. The fire of her love enflamed, she said, “O prince, when will you go to your mother and father?”

     “My mother and father will not come here,” he said.  “but if you get horses and arms, you and I will escape and get ourselves to them so that you may have your desire.”

Barghal immediately brought horses and arms, and the two escaped.  A few sentences later they encountered another woman, Khosh-Khiram, the daughter of the nurse to the woman whom Sa'id really loves.  In just a few more sentences, the passionate and heroic Barghal is lamely put out of the story:

They [Barghal, Sa'id, and Khosh-Khiram] dismounted at the foot of a mountain and camped there for the night.  However, a panther came down from the mountain and tore Barghal to bits.  Sa'id killed the panther and, the next morning, laid Barghal to rest in the earth.[86]

If the narrative had any consistency, Barghal would have killed the panther to save Sa’id from death.  But there is no sustained narrative here – just continual fun, and an insignificant shift away from Barghal, who, despite all she did, never got her desire.  

      The importance of sense over narrative can also be seen in the use of historical material.  An early painting in the Hamzanama is titled, “Anoshirvan lays the foundation of Ctesiphon at an auspicious hour.”[87]  There was a Sasanian king Khusrau Anushirvan who ruled Persia from the imperial city of Ctesiphon from 531-579 G.C.  He built the Great Arch of Ctesiphon, the largest brick vault in the world – 115 feet high and 82 feet wide, and still standing today.[88]  The Parthians, however, had established Ctesiphon as the Persian capital c. 150 B.G.C.  That was about 800 years before Anushirvan’s reign.  The Parthians established Ctesiphon by renaming and redeveloping the ancient Babylonian city of Opis.  Opis had been the capital of an administrative region of Babylon and was founded c. 2200 B.G.C.  In the Hamzanama, this history of Ctesiphon is truncated.  The foundation of Ctesiphon is associated with the sight of construction of Anoshirvan’s Great Arch of Ctesiphon. 

      The Hamzanama draws upon an enormous range of myth, literature, and history.  Hamza is often called the Sahib-Qiran, meaning lord of the auspicious planetary conjunction, a reference to astrological tales.  His court is often called Solomon's court, which refers back to the wisdom and might of the Hebrew king, Solomon.  One morning, to sound the call for battle, Hamza “ordered Alexander's drum, Jamshed's flute, and Gayomarth's cymbal sounded.”[89]  In Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, Keyumars (Gayomarth) is the first man and the first shah of the world, and Jamshid, the fourth shah.  Alexander in the Shahnameh comes much later in the chain of shahs; his character is partly shaped by the historical figure of Alexander the Great, who conquered Persia in antiquity.  An early painting in the Hamzanama is captioned, “Hamza marries the daughter of Faridun Shah, the King of Greece, who converts to Islam.”[90]  The Hamzanama also includes a character called Alamshah Rumi (the Greek), who is one of Hamza’s sons.

      Just one folio of the Hamzanama presents three heroic tests famous in European literature.  For at least 800 years, Arthur pulling a sword from a stone has been an episode in European legends about English knights.[91]  In the Hamzanama, a painting shows an infidel champion burying a spear into a tree.[92]  The associated text describes his challenge: “if anyone can pull this spear out of the tree, he will have performed a real feat.” Hamza’s brother Ayjil is equal to the challenge, and more: 

Ayjil reached out and grabbed the spear, heaved, and pulled it from the tree.  Then he struck it with such force against the rock, which was lying as large as a mountain at the base of the tree, that sparks flew from the spear and the rock sank into the earth.  The spear sank nearly two cubits into the rock.

Another infidel champion, Maghlub Long-Neck, duplicated a feat with memorable antecedents in Persian and European literature:[93]

Maghlub Long-Neck ordered a beautiful slave dressed in brocade to come forth and sit at the gate.  Then he took an apple from the table and placed it on the slave’s head.  From a distance of seventy paces he shot an arrow that took the apple from the slave’s head as the people cried out in glee.

Only a few sentences earlier he had set out a challenge similar to one Penelope posed to her suitors:

Seven steel shields were brought, and he [Maghlub Long-Neck] took a bow in his hand and some arrows like spears.  He put an arrow as large as a shovel into this bow and shot it.  It passed straight through the shields and kept on going.  Everyone cheered.  He sat down and said, “I desire that my bow be passed to each and every champion, and let them all have a try.”

     None of Zumurrud Shah’s champions could draw the bow.  Maghlub Long-Neck said, “In all the Aaq Desert, where the men are renowned throughout the world for drawing bows and shooting arrows, no one could draw this bow or shoot this arrow.”

Maghlub Long-Neck proposed to wait and see if “someone among the squires or the people of the city may be found who can pull the bow.”  Hamza’s Greek son Alamshah stepped up:

That champion exerted himself and stretched it from ear to ear, snapped it three times, took some arrows, put them in the bow, and shot them so hard that they passed straight through the tree and stuck in the ground up to the feathers.  Once again he exerted himself, and the bow broke at the handle.  Alamshah tossed it away and said to the squire, “Tell Maghlub not to boast any more.”[94]

In the Hamzanama, stories of the sword in stone, shooting an apple from an innocent’s head, and bending a nearly unbendable bow are taken out of context, compressed and adapted, and strung together like pearls.[95]  These historically enduring stories have little narrative significance in the Hamzanama.  They are most likely there for their time-tested sensuous effects.


E. Making Sense of Presence


In producing the Hamzanama, Akbar invested in evoking presence for many, diverse subjects.  In the adventures of Hamza, like in other popular Persian romances, characters lack the psychological depth of real persons.[96]  Characters represent not persons, but valued characteristics.  The narrative does not flow over time as a stream of interrelated, developing events, but shifts focus from moment to moment while repeating, with some amusing variations, conventional models of warfare, trickery, love, and journey.  At a performance of the adventures of Hamza, a person could collect characteristics, viewpoints, and themes of personal interest without being pushed to the margins of a narrative stream.  The Hamzanama paintings – large, colorful, energetic – offer multiple entry points and many images of interest within one frame.   The Hamzanama is an investment in enabling persons to experience within one performance a sense of presence particular to their own subjectivities.

      Epithets used for Hamza in the Hamzanama evoke diverse identities.  Hamza is called “the great Amir Hamza the Arab” or “Amir of the Arabs,” where amir is a term indicating nobility.  Hamza is also called “the prince of Iran and Turan” or “the Amir of Iran and Turan.”  Hamza is all this even within one text page.[97]  These epithets are unusually multi-dimensional literary hyperbole.  In the Shahnameh, the Iranian national epic revered for hundreds of years before Akbar’s time, the Turanians are the Iranians most implacable enemy.[98] The ruler of Turan (Transoxiana) was also in Akbar’s time a dangerous rival to him.  Moreover, the Shahnameh subtly preserves and celebrates the Persian culture that existed before the Arabs conquered Persia and established in Persia the Arabic script and Islamic religion and culture.  Similarly, tension existed among Mughal officials over what fidelity to Islam meant, not in a homogenous Arab Islamic society, but in Akbar’s diverse empire.  In Akbar's court, persons might identify with Iranians (the high culture to the west), Turanians (Central Asian warriors), or Arabs (the source of Islam).  Hamza, hero of the Iranians, Turanians, and Arabs, could be the hero who each member of the audience wants him to be.

The gazes of painted figures in the Hamzanama give the viewer the freedom to make sense of the scene.  Painted figures in the Hamzanama almost never assert their own subjectivity by meeting the eyes of the viewer.  Painted figures generally have their bodies turned and their eyes directed at someone or something within the painting.  To see the possibility and significance of a different choice, consider the Hamzanama painting of a hero lifting an elephant as a show of strength on the battlefield.[99]  The painting shows the hero, with his back three quarters turned to the viewer, lifting the elephant and looking at two enemy warriors.  The painting would have had a much different sense of presence if the hero had lifted the elephant above his head while looking straight out at the painting's viewer.  Such a choice would have made the hero into a character demanding recognition, not only from other characters looking on in the painting, but also from the viewer outside the painting. 

      The few instances in which figures in Hamzanama paintings look outward seem to be painters asserting their presence.  These figures are small and placed near the edges of the paintings.  They occur in paintings with many other figures, all relating with gesture and gaze to each other.[100]  The figures looking outward seem to function as signature decorations.  The most impressive instance is in the upper-center area of a painting filled with active persons.[101]  There three figures are framed in a window.  Two in the lower portion of the window are looking down and across.  Centered above the line of their heads floats a third face, looking straight out at the viewer.  That face breaks the painting's invitation to enter and act within its world.  The face seems to be an artist saying, “Here I am.  You are looking at what I have done!”

      European Christian engravings and paintings fascinated Akbar and his court.  Recent scholarship indicates that work on the Hamzanama finished about 1573, the year that Akbar met a Portuguese delegation in Goa and received gifts from them.[102]  A Jesuit priest at Akbar’s court described in early 1580 Akbar’s reaction about that time to two paintings of Mary, the mother of Jesus:

On entering he was surprised and astonished and made a deep obeisance to the picture of Our Lady that was there, …as well as to another beautifully executed representation of Our Lady brought by Fr. Martin da Silva from Rome, which pleased him no end, and then he left to praise them to his captains who waited outside.  He was so taken up that he came in again with a few of his intimates and his chief painter and other painters, of which he has many excellent ones, and they were all wonderstruck and said that there could be no better painting nor better artists than those who had painted the said pictures.[103]

The Jesuit priest’s understanding of the significance of the painting probably strongly shaped his sense of this event, particularly since he was a cultural outsider and did not understand Persian.  However, Akbar’s chief painter was most likely a widely recognized person.[104]  Akbar’s return with this person and others is a more objective indicator of Akbar’s reaction.  Another contemporary Jesuit account of an event in March, 1582 provides similar types of details, as well as some complex and distinctive senses:

…a certain noble, a relation of the King, secretly asked the officer in charge of the royal furniture for the beautiful picture of the Virgin which belonged to the King, and placed it (unknown to the King himself) on a bracket in the wall of the royal balcony at the side of the audience chamber, where the King was wont to sit and show himself to the people and to give audience to those who desired it.  The aforementioned noble surrounded and draped the picture with the most beautiful hangings of cloth and gold and embroidered linen.  For he thought this would please the King.  Nor was he mistaken: for the King warmly praised the idea, which also gave great pleasure to the priests, who perceived that non-Christians were worshipping and reverencing the picture, and – as if compelled by the unaided force of the truth – were not denying veneration to the image of her whom the morning stars extol, and whose beauty amazes the Sun and Moon…[105]

Mughal fascination with paintings of Mary was just the beginning.  As one scholar notes:

European visitors to the palaces and tombs of the emperors of Mughal India (“Mogor” in Portugese) between the 1590s and 1660s were amazed to find them prominently adorned with mural paintings depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Christian saints executed in the style of the Late Renaissance.  To their astonishment, they also discovered Mughal artists at work on large numbers of miniature paintings, exquisite jewelry, and sculptures of the same subjects – including many which were apparently even being used as devotional images.[106]

Akbar was arguably militarily more powerful, materially richer, and culturally more sophisticated than any European leader at the end of what the Europeans called the sixteenth century.   Why would he and his court be attracted to paintings that had become a source of bitter conflict within Europe and were in any case from what they might have rightly regarded then as a vastly inferior civilization?

      Recent scholarship seems to explain Mughal-Christian interculturality with culturally specific representations and narratives.  This scholarship explains interest in Christian imagery as a matter of appropriating representations:

They interpreted missionary art on their own terms and used images of Christian saints and angels to proclaim a message based on Islamic, Sufi, and Hindu symbolism and linked with Persian poetic metaphor. 

…Far from being alien to Indo-Islamic culture, these figures carried a rich range of associations for their Mughal audience and communicated messages related to moral leadership, divine guidance, and royal genealogy.  Contemporary texts show that Mughal panegyrists openly alluded to both figures in prose and poetry to promote their leaders’ rights to rule.  It naturally follows that Mughal artists encoded the same meaning into portraits of these holy figures.[107]

Contemporary Western scholarship tends to respond to images in terms of encoded messages and symbols.[108]  Analyses of power are also common, and they occur, more or less self-consciously, in conjunction with seeking power, supporting those in power, advocating for those without power, some complexly reasoned combination of these strategies, or a claim to none at all. 

      While this sort of analysis provides a plausible explanation for royal use of Christian imagery, it doesn’t explain why the first European paintings to reach Abkar’s court created such a sensation.  The first European paintings that reached Akbar’s court were large oil paintings of Mary, the mother of Jesus.[109]  Mary was a known figure in Akbar’s court.  She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and Akbar’s mother was named Maryam, the Arabic form of the name Mary.  Moreover, Akbar’s court was quite active in creating portraits.[110]  Within the riches of Islamic, Sufi, Hindu, and Persian culture, a portrait of Mary seems like a rather dull representation.  Perhaps being dull was an advantage.  If no one cared much about this representation, then it wouldn’t be a source of religious and cultural conflict.[111]  But being not provocative isn’t a good explanation for being sensational.

      At least one of the paintings of Mary that the Jesuits brought to Akbar’s court was a hodigitria – an icon of a type that had greatly affected viewers across the previous millennium.  Empress Eudokia Augusta brought to Constantinople in the fifth century a large icon that created this iconographic type.[112]  The evangelist Luke was thought to have painted it from the living presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  He reputedly painted it on a tabletop that Jesus, a carpenter by profession, made.[113]  Hodigitria means “the guide who shows the way.”  After the Byzantine iconoclasm of the seventh and eighth centuries, the return of this famous icon and others was celebrated in a special feast day called “The Triumph of Orthodoxy” or “The Restoration of the Holy Icons.”[114]   The original Constantinople hodigitria was lost in the fifteenth century.  By that time, another hodigitria, one kept in the Borghese Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, had become famous and was renowned for working miracles.  This later icon, known as the Salus Populi Romani or Borghese Madonna, was painted on a five-by-three-feet cedar slab.[115]  Francis of Borgia, the third director-general of the Jesuits, received permission from Pope Pius V to have the icon copied.  Jesuits took copies of the icon with them on foreign missions, including the mission to Goa, India.[116]  One of the paintings of Mary that the Jesuits brought to Akbar was almost certainly one of these copies.[117]  While the specific painting has been lost, that the painting was a copy of the Salus Populi Romani describes it precisely and indicates its time-tested effect on viewers.

      A better explanation for the sensation that the first European paintings created in Akbar’s court is that these paintings of Mary powerfully evoked a new sense of presence.  The paintings brought in 1580 were described as altar pieces.[118]  They were thus much larger than typical Mughal portraits, and probably even larger than the Hamzanama paintings.  Like the Hamzanama paintings, the paintings of Mary were part of a multi-sensory experience.  The Jesuits described Akbar viewing the paintings of Mary in a church “well appointed with its perfumes and fragrance,” and undoubtedly also other distinctive physical artifacts of Jesuit spirituality.[119]  Moreover, like the storytellers who performed with the Hamzanama, the Jesuits in relation to the paintings of Mary probably provided a verbal and gestural complement that Akbar saw and heard. 

      The paintings of Mary evoked a different sense of presence than the Hamzanama did.  While the Hamzanama paintings had much decorative detail and provided energetic, colorful, and unstructured visual stimuli, the Salus Populi Romani and other hodigitria have simple, quiet shapes and only a few colors.[120]  Mary’s face is a central feature of the icon.  Most importantly, hodigitria depict a neurophysiologically important aspect of personal recognition: Mary’s eyes look straight out at the viewer.  Only marginal figures in the Hamzanama occasionally did this.  In almost all Mughal portraits, the figures’ heads are turned at least slightly, and the figures’ eyes do not meet the viewer’s eyes.[121]  While the Hamzanama provided an artifact that allowed all of Akbar’s subjects to revel in their own subjectivity, hodigitria present a different subjectivity, one insisting on her own presence.  This difference is the most plausible explanation of what made the paintings of Mary sensational.[122]

      The sense of presence that the paintings of Mary evoked has no necessary connection to Renaissance pictorial realism.  In early seventeenth century Europe, persons marveled at the vivid motion, vibrant colors, and earthy, three-dimensional forms depicted in works like Caravaggio’s Madonna dei Pellegrini.   About that time in Akbar’s empire, over thirty years after the last painting of the Hamzanama, persons marveled at another large, traditional icon of Mary.  This one was a copy of the Madonna del Popolo, a hodigitria that Pope Gregory IX presented to a church in Rome in 1231.[123]  Ten thousand persons came in one day in 1602 to see the painting.  A great captain, “accompanied by more than sixty men on horseback,” came to see the painting.  Although he had already seen other hodigitria, Akbar asked that the painting be brought to him.  He kept it overnight in his “sleeping apartment,” where his wives and children lived.  Soon thereafter Akbar’s mother requested that the painting be brought to her, and so did other socially and politically important persons.  The painting became a crowd attraction and a performance piece:

A great crowd of people had assembled in the palace yard in the hope of being able to see the picture…seeing that they would be able to satisfy so large a number of persons at one time, [the Jesuit priests] placed it where all could see it and publicly uncovered it.  The moment it was exposed to view, the noise and clamor of the crowded courtyard was hushed as if by magic, and the people gazed on the picture in unbroken silence.[124]

If this effect was a result of a style of painting, it was a result of a style of painting that went back to Byzantium.  Akbar’s court rapidly absorbed paintings, styles, and techniques from the European renaissance, and perhaps these were also able to contribute to such effects.  The Hamzanama was undoubtedly designed to contribute to a similar effect.  However, neither the Hamzanama nor the hodigitria represented pictorial realism. They both were sensational in making sense of presence, but in much different ways.

      While sense of presence is a bodily function, the history of the Hamzanama shows that the lived circumstances of persons and societies affect this sense.  Babur, the first Mughal emperor and Akbar’s grandfather, derided a leading literary figure for using the adventures of Hamza as a model for one of his works.  To Babur, tales like the adventures of Hamza were “contrary to good taste and sound reason.”[125]  Akbar, on the other hand, invested an enormous amount of resources in producing the Hamzanama.  Each folio of the Hamzanama cost 25-100 times that of a typical Mughal painting, and the Hamzanama had over a 1000 times more paintings than the typical illustrated Mughal manuscript.[126]  Undoubtedly Akbar sensed something in the adventures of Hamza that Babur did not.

      The Hamzanama also invoked different responses from subsequent leaders.  The Hamzanama was inspected relatively infrequently in the imperial library after the first few years of the reign of Jahangir, Akbar’s son and successor.  One scholar explains the lack of attention to the Hamzanama thus:

this relative disfavor comes as no surprise, for the later emperors and their courts differed from Akbar as much in character as in aesthetic taste, with physical vigor and cultural ebullience gradually giving way to more cerebral and calculated manners and more conspicuously refined styles.[127]

On the other hand, when the Persian leader Nadir Shah conquered Delhi in 1739, he apparently took at least some of the volumes of the Hamzanama back to Iran. The Mughal emperor sent a special plea for their return, but the Persian leader reportedly replied, “Ask but the return of all your treasures, and they are yours – but not the Amir Hamzeh!”[128] 

      When the Hamzanama was divided, scattered, and separated from its place in the performance of the adventures of Hamza, it evoked little more than a conventional response.  An iconoclast defaced the heads of the living creatures in most Hamzanama folios found in 1881 in Srinagar, Kashmir.[129]  Most of these folios are in poor condition. They were found “stopping up the chinks in the windows of a curiosity-shop.”[130]  What had been a great artistic treasure, created to evoke a sense of presence for many, diverse subjects, had become, late in the nineteenth century, mere paintings that made no impression.


[1] Owen (2002) documents these details.  On the storage of the folios, see Seyller (2002) pp. 35, 42.

[2] I had the good fortune of seeing this exhibition at the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., in autumn, 2002.

[3] Burke (1989) pp. 214-15.

[4] G.C. indicates here a Gregorian calendar date.  The Gregorian calendar is the most commonly used calendar in the Americas and in most parts of Europe.  In different places, among difference groups, and for different purposes, different calendars are commonly used.   For a technical discussion of various calendars, see Doggett (1992). All subsequent dates infra. are G.C. unless otherwise noted.

[5] This letter, dated “in the month Rabi’u’l-awal, in the year 990” (month starting March 26, 1582 G.C), was addressed to “European scholars”.  The text of the letter makes clear that it is directed to the European ruler of Goa.  Rehatsek (1887) conjuctures that the person who addressed Akbar’s letter may have been uncertain whether Spain or Portugal would be ruling Goa when the letter reached there.  Goa was part of Philip II's kingdom in 1582.  The quotation is a translation from the original Persian, as provided id., p. 137.

[6] Correia-Afonso (1980), p. 119, as translated from the Latin original.  This letter is dated 18 February 1582.  This attitude and manner of communication contrasts sharply with that of Pope John Paul II, the current Roman Catholic pontiff.  For example, on August, 19, 1985, Pope John Paul II gave a speech in person in French to about 80,000 young persons in Casablanca Stadium in Morocco.  He noted, “Christians and Muslims have many things in common, as believers and as human beings.”  He expressed respect for the Muslim spiritual tradition and stated that God calls all persons to obey God's will “in a free consent of mind and of heart.” He also acknowledged significant differences between Islam and Christianity, and concluded:

    I believe that today, God invites us to change our old practices. We must respect each other, and we must stimulate each other in good works on the path of God.

    With me, you know the reward of spiritual values. Ideologies and slogans cannot satisfy you nor can they solve the problems of your life. Only spiritual and moral values can do it, and they have God at their foundation.

    Dear young people, I wish that you may be able to help in building a world where God may have first place in order to aid and to save mankind. On this path, you are assured, of the esteem and the collaboration of your Catholic brothers and sisters whom I represent among you this evening. 

Speech published in L'Osservatore Romano [English edition], 16 Sept. 1985, pp. 6-8.

[7] Correia-Afonso (1980), p. 119, as translated from the Latin original.

[8] Correia-Afonso (1980), p. 121, as translated from a contemporary Portugese translation of the original Persian.  The likely date of the letter is 24 Feb. 1583 (id., p. 122, ft. 4).  Akbar could not read or write.  The body of this letter is short and in a colloquial style.  It concludes with this sentence: “And to the Father I said many things by word of mouth, for him to say there to Your Paternity, which are to be well-considered.”  This letter probably records more literally Akbar’s voice than the earlier letter to Philip II. 

[9] The first estimate is from the entry for St. Bartholomew’s Day in the Columbia Encylopedia (2000).  It states that an estimated 3,000 were killed in Paris, and 70,000 in all of France.  The second is from Benedict (1978) p. 207, cited in Holt (1995) p. 94, which also states that about 2000 were killed in Paris.

[10] The first figure is from the “Thirty Years War overview” entry in Wikipedia (2003).  The latter figure is calculated from Maddison (2001) p. 232, Table B-2, which gives the population of Germany in 1600 and 1700 as 16 million and 15 million, respectively.  An art exhibit “War and Peace in Europe,” sponsored by the Council of Europe in 1998 to commemorate the 350’th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Westphelia, states on its website, “It has been reckoned that about 40% of the population perished [in the Thirty Years War], a figure well above that given for Germany during World War Two.”  See Council of Europe (1998).  Duplessis (1997), p. 143, states that “at least a quarter” died, while Crouzet (2001), p. 91, states that “at least 20%” died.  All these totals include deaths from epidemics and famine, which undoubtedly caused most of the deaths.  Upton (2001), pp. 62-3, aptly summarizes the intellectual history:

…there are serious estimates that range from Steinberg’s assertion that there was no absolute population decline between 1600 and 1650, to assertions that two-thirds of the population was lost. … But in one sense it does not matter whether the catastrophic image of the war is true or not.  For what is indisputable is that among the elites who decided Europe’s affairs it was widely believed that the war had been uniquely destructive, and it was necessary to ensure that nothing like it could happen again.  It encouraged their belief that in [the] future reason, not passion, should be the basis of public policy, and that security required the maintenance of strong governments, powerful enough to control events.

[11] To get a sense of the fissures in discussion of these events, see, for example, the well-designed web page, “Rejection of Pascal’s Wager: The Wars of Religion,” (, the Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (, and Chapter 3 in Holt (1995).

[12] E.g. DeLong (2001).

[13] Vanina (1996) pp. 83, 66.  Being sensitive to reality, in all its richness, and avoiding bland and unself-conscious iterations of contemporary orthodox, has always been a challenge, even for learned scholars.

[14] Id. pp. 56, 71, 178, for example. 

[15] Id. pp. 57, 60-1, 67.

[16] Id. p. 69.

[17] Bailey (1999) p. 193.

[18] Abu’l Fazl ‘Allami, The Ain-i Akbari, 1:113-4, 103, as translated from Persian and quoted in id.

[19] Rehatsek (1887) p. 37.

[20] Id. In recent decades, Western scholars who have quoted Akbar have generally not quoted this sentence.

[21] Seyller (2002) pp. 38-40 presents new evidence and convincing argument that work on the Hamzanama began about 1557 G.C.

[22] The first printing press in India was brought to Goa by the Portuguese about Sept. 1556, and the first book was printed within a few months.  Rhodes (1969) p. 11.

[23] Du Jarric (c. 1604) p. 70.

[24] Correia-Afonso (1980) p. 76.

[25] Id. p. 58.

[26] Burke (1989) pp. 142-44.  Historically, Occidental observers have tended to be very interested in the sexual relations of Oriental persons.

[27] Chamberlain (1991) p. 251.  Anticipating a Western scholarly fashion of the mid and late 1990s, Chamberlain discussed extensively his sexual practices.  See id., chapter 11.

[28] Seyller (2002) p. 36.

[29] Correia-Afonso (1980) p. 81 (letter from Jesuit Fr. Monserrate, Fatehpur Sikri, 1580).  Another Jesuit priest made a similar observation that year.  Id. p. 56.

[30] Accessible texts or summaries in English of works of the adventures of Hamza include Hanaway (1970), App. 5, pp. 337-49 [summary of Persian text Qeşşa-e Hamza, from She'ar (1968-69), described as “originally written” about the ninth century, with this text apparently at least earlier than the sixteenth century ], Walker (1996) [Behçet Mahir’s traditional oral performance in Turkey in 1979], Pritchett (1991) [text printed in Urdu in India in 1871 under the name of Abdullah Bilgrami], and Thackston (2002) [translation of Hamzanama texts written in Persian by or from traditional oral storytellers about 1557-72].  Stevenson (1958) provides a translation of part of a Georgian text associated with Mose Khoneli from the twelfth century.  Some consider this to be a work of the adventures of Hamza.  Stevenson does not. 

[31] Hanaway (1970) explores these connections in detail. 

[32] The facts in this and the subsequent paragraph are drawn from the introduction to Pritchett (1991), the introduction to Walker (1996), and the entry for Hamza b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib in the Encyclopedia of Islam. 

[33] Hanaway (1970) p. 10.

[34] Walker (1996) p. xxiv.

[35] Faridany-Akhavan (1989) pp. 15, 38, 40 ft. 16.  The translation above is a composite from ib. p. 15 and p. 40, ft. 16.  Faridany-Akhavan's translation recognizes that traditional oral storytelling is not a recital of a written text.

[36] Seyller (2002) pp. 38-40.

[37] Wellesz (1952) pp. 25-6.

[38] Id.

[39] Seyller (2002) p. 36.

[40] Western scholarship is beginning to appreciate more the Shahnameh’s literary merit.  See Davidson (1994) and Davis (1992).

[41] An early section of the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp includes 256 paintings – vastly more than in most royal illustrated manuscripts.  These paintings are considered to be among the greatest masterpieces of Persian paintings.  Dickson and Welch (1981) reproduces all the paintings in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, which is also known as the Houghton Shahnameh.  The manuscript was subsequently broken up, and individual paintings from it were sold separately.

[42] A collection of illustrated Shahnameh manuscripts, dating from 1544 to 1674, is available at  Most of the pages with paintings in these Persian manuscripts also include text.  On Indian illustrated manuscripts compared to the Hamzanama, see Losty (1982) p. 86.

[43] Faridany-Akhavan (1989) seems to be the first scholar to have recognized this correspondence.  Recognizing it was a challenge because Hanzamana paintings relate to text much more loosely than most illustrations.

[44] Seyller (2002) pp. 41-2.

[45] Hanaway (1970) p. 219.

[46] Yarshater (1988) p. 103-4.

[47] Thackston (2002), trans. for cat. 38, p. 293.

[48] Seyller (2002) cat. 38.

[49] Seyller (2002), disc. of cat. 38, p. 128.

[50] See, for example, the fan pages at and

[51] Thackston (2002), trans. for cat. 38, p. 294.

[52] Hanaway (1970) pp. 282-6.

[53] Yarshater (1988) p. 9.

[54] Seyller (2002) cat. 28.

[55] Id. cat. 33, 39, 53, 57, and 78.  In cat. 45, with no earrings, no beard, and dangling clothes, Zummurrud Shah has a babyish character much different from all the other depictions of him in this catalogue. 

[56] Thackston (2002) trans. for cat. 28, p. 290.  Zumurrud Shah had his head broken prior to being put in the barn.  Given the details of the above passage, the penultimate and final sentences seem mis-ordered.  This may be a mistake in transcribing an oral story.   One also suspects that what has been translated as “nose” might actually refer to a different bodily orifice, especially since Zumurrud Shad was able to see his condition.

[57] Seyller (2002) pp. 44, 48-50.

[58] Abdul-Samad, perhaps the second most important artist in creating the Hamzanama, was born in Shiraz, Iran, and also worked as a junior member of Shah Tahmasp's atelier.  Id. pp. 44, 48.  He took over supervision of the Hamzanama late in its production.  Id. p. 33.  In the court of Humayun, Akbar’s father, Chandra (1975), pp. 15-18, identifies five other painters with a Persian origin or strong Persian influence.  As Adle (2000) shows, new evidence indicates that Persian influence should not be over-emphasized.  Humayun patronized painting before he fled to Persia.  Moreover, manuscript painting was well-developed in Kabul even before Humayun traveled there from Persia.  Id., passim.

[59] Dickson and Welch (1981), vol I, p. 12.

[60] Chandra (1976) p. 70.  Urban culture existed in the Indus Valley civilization more than 4000 years ago in what is today Pakistan and western India.  For an excellent web presentation, see   While no paintings remain from that era, lavish paintings 1300-2100 years old have been preserved in the Ajanta caves.  Some images are available at 

[61] Hanaway (1970) p. 217.  This is true for the text of the Hamzanama.

[62] Allen (1988) argues that figural cycles that span the Islamic world are not narrative but emblematic, and that they do not allude to specific textual passages.   This is true of the Hamzanama.  However, the adventures of Hamza are part of a supra-ethnic and linguistic tradition encompassing the Islamic world.  The Hamzanama primarily concerns human actions and states of mind, but not the representation of a specific narrative.

[63] Dickson and Welch (1981), v. II, includes all the paintings.  Among the 258 figural paintings in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, on my count 70 of these to have a predominate horizontal line of action: 50 from right to left, and 20 from left to right.  Left to right lines of action associated with reverse meanings include folio 42v (Faridun's eldest son retreating), 98v (Turanians invading Iran), and 102v (retaliatory killing).

[64] The boundaries of the text boxes usually define a rectangle that includes most of the painting.  Among the 258 folios with figural paintings, 135 have a text in the lower left corner of this rectangle but not elsewhere on its bottom line, 98 have text across the bottom line, and 8 have text only in the lower right corner.  The remaining 17 folios with figural paintings do not have text along the bottom margin.

[65] Seyller (2002) provides a large color print or small, black-and-white image for 166 out of 167 known, full-sized Hamzanama folios.  On my count, 45 of these have a dominant horizontal direction of action: 17 right-to-left and 18 left-to-right.

[66] Faridany-Akhaven (1989) pp. 29, 52.   Id. seems to have transposed “left” and “right” in the description of page positions in the prefatory material labeled “Transliteration.”

[67] Seyller (2002) p. 256, prints r9 and r10.

[68] Wellesz (1952) p. 37.

[69] Koch (2002) p. 30.

[70] Hanaway (1970) pp. 249-53.  This convention is at least as old as Ferdowsi's Shahnameh (late tenth century).

[71] Thackston (2002), intro. phrases for cat. 22, 44, 77, 78, 79, and 81, respectively. 

[72] For an influential discussion of cybertext, see Aarseth (1997).

[73] Seyller (2002) pp. 256-79.

[74] Hanaway (1970) pp. 240-7.

[75] Seyller (202) p. 104, 109.  This is very different from book-form chronicles with paintings, as the detailed analysis of the paintings in the Padshahnama of Mughal Shah Jahan shows.  See Beach and Koch (1997), pp. 161-207.

[76] This is the longest consecutive sequence in Thackston (2002).

[77] Fagles (1996).

[78] Thackston (2002) trans. for cat. 49, p. 299.

[79] Seyller (2002) cat. 49 p. 158 depicts Kayhur.  While Kayhur looks much like Qasim, Kayhur is described as being the son of a demon and a large Ethiopian woman.  Thackston (2002) trans. for cat. 49, p. 299.

[80] Id., trans. for cat. 51.

[81] Id., second trans. for cat. 52, p. 300.

[82] Id., trans. for cat. 61, p. 303.  Current popular and scholarly discussions probably would focus on the detail that Mahiya put on her veil.  For a more interesting exploration of women in the medieval Islamic world, see Hambly (1998).  Many more men than women are killed in the Hamzanama text.  This also tends to be a feature of the contemporary world (currently in the U.S. about three times as many men are victims of homicide as are women).  Those who dare to note male deaths tend to note quickly and apologetically that most killers are male.  E.g. Corballis (2002) p. 136, n. 33.  But the sex of killers is not significantly related to the experience of death.   

[83] Seyller (2002) cat. 61.

[84] Thackston (2002), trans. for cat. 66, p. 305.

[85] Id., trans. for cat. 67.

[86] All the quoted passages above are consecutive passages from one Hamzanama text page, id.  

[87] Seyller (2002) R2, p. 257.

[88] See  For an image of the Arch in 1889, see  Lowry et. al. (1988) pl. 38 provides a larger, black-and-while image of this painting, but  misidentifies the subject as the castle at Khawarnaq.  Id. p. 32, ft. 3.  The painting does, however, share visual elements with an earlier painting of the castle at Khawarnaq.  See Gray( 1961) p. 116.

[89] Thackston (2002), second trans. for cat. 48, p. 298.

[90] Seyller (2002) R20, p. 259.  Faridun was an early shah of all the world in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh.

[91] This episode has been traced to Robert de Boron’s Merlin romance (c 1200), which was incorporated into the Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian stories (1227-35).  Lacy (1996) pp. 437-8.  But legends about King Arthur were widespread before these works were written.  In a work written 1174-79, a European scholar noted:

Who is there, I ask, who does not speak of Arthur the Briton, since he is but little less know to the peoples of Asia than to the Bretons, as we are informed by our palmers who return from the countries of the East?  The Eastern peoples speak of him as do the Western, though separated by the breadth of the whole earth.  Egypt speaks of him and the Bosphorus is not silent.  Rome, the queen of cities, sings his deeds, as his wars are not unknown to her former rival CarthageAntioch, Armenia, and Palestine celebrate his feats.

Alanus de Insulis, Prophetia Anglicana Merlini Ambrosii Britanni, quoted in Loomis (1949) p. 3.  Saracens, a European term for Muslims, are significant figures in the Arthurian legends.  For example, in these legends a Saracen knight Palemides is defeated by Sir Galahad and accepts Christianity.  The adventures of Hamza and the Arthurian legends are similar, with some obvious transpositions.  At least some storytellers 400-900 years ago probably explored both.  Persons interested in either today might well follow this historical lead and seek to better appreciate the other.

[92] Id.  cat. 33.  The quotations in this paragraph are from Thackston (2002), trans. for cat. 33, p. 292, penultimate sentence for vol. 11, text number 6, and sections of vol. 11,  text number 7.

[93] About 1177 in Iran, Farid ud-Din Attar wrote a well-known poem that includes a short section about a king practicing his archery by shooting an arrow through an apple resting on the head of a beautiful slave.  The account focuses on the perspective of the slave, presents the king as vain and selfish, and mentions nothing about the distance of the shot or the reaction of onlookers.  Attar (1177/1984) p. 46 (about lines 968-980 in poem).  Shooting an arrow through an apple sitting on top of an innocent person’s head is a scene found in German-Scandinavian tales from 800-1000 years ago.  In these tales, as in the Hamzanama, the shot is presented as a heroic feat.  The tale of William Tell, first written in Switzerland in 1470, is probably the best known instance of this type of scene.  See Child (1882-98/1965) pp. 14-30.

[94] Cf. the Odyssey, Book 21, “Odysseus Strings His Bow.”  Another parallel to the Odyssey is in the Hamzanama, vol. 11, text number 24 (Thackston (2002), trans. for cat. 42, p. 294).  In a short section of that text, a hero hurls himself into a river, swims mightily, almost drowns, rides a piece of wood, and reaches land at the source of a river.  After caring for some rudimentary needs (drying his clothes), he sees a group of girls.  One of them is the daughter of the king of that realm and exceedingly beautiful.  She falls in love with him, gives him a robe, and takes him back to a palace where they celebrate with much wine. Cf. Odysseus's shipwreck and reception on Phaeacia  (end of Book 5 and beginning of Book 6).  Hamzanama, vol. 11, text 76 (Thackston (2002), trans. for cat. 86, p. 312) may have some interculturality with Dante's Inferno.  The associated painting shows a huge black pit in the middle of which is a dragon.  But the perspective is reversed: “Despair not, for the end is good.”

[95] The storyteller responsible for the Hamzanama , vol. 11, text number 7, probably had a strong Islamic influence.  Historically, Islam has valued highly learning from the best literature around the world, including non-Islamic literature.  Further evidence for the Islamic character of the author is the preface to the preceding text page (text number 6): “Thus says Wahib son of Wahab, from Mas’ud of Mecca of exalted lineage.”  That text page also includes one use of the clause “God willing”, and two uses of the clause “if God grants it.”  This recognition of dependency on an all-powerful God is a key aspect of Islam.

[96] Hanaway (1970) pp. 240-4.

[97] E.g. Thackston (2002), trans. for cat. 21, p. 288, trans. for cat. 36, p. 293.   Hamza was also called the Sahib-Qiran, a name also used for Timur (Tamerlane), a Turko-Mongol leader who conquered Persia and much of India in the fourteenth century (Beach and Koch (1997) p. 159).

[98] Yarshater (1988) p. 17-8.

[99] Seyller (2002), cat. 52.

[100] Seyller (2002), cat. 35 (discussed infra), cat. 53 (figure in lower right), cat. 57 (figure in lower right), and cat 71 (center right near horse).

[101] Id., cat. 35.

[102] Seyller (2002) pp. 38-40.

[103] Correia-Afonso (1980) p. 31.

[104] Seyller (2002) pp. 47-8 and Wellesz (1952) p. 26 document the public importance of painting in Akbar’s court.

[105] Monserrate (c. 1591) p. 176, which continued with historically characteristic bitterness, “(though some, who vainly claim to follow Christ and to be ministers of the Gospel, impudently abuse her and are thus worse than the very Musalmans).”  Mughal paintings done forty to sixty years later depict Jahangir, Akbar’s son, seated in court with a portrait of Mary on the wall above.  See Beach and Koch (1997) pl. 38, 39. 

[106] Bailey (1999) p. 112.

[107] Bailey (1998) p. 37.

[108] The Jesuits in Akbar's courts also did this, despite an attempt at intercultural explanation:

Sire, we do not venerate the images for what they are, because we are well aware that they are merely paper or canvas with pigments; it is because of those whom they represent.  Just as with your fermans [decrees]:  you do not touch them to your foreheads because they are papers covered in ink, but because you know that they contain your order and will.

Quoted in Bailey (1999) p. 127.  Akbar may have touched letters to his forehead in order to make them effective as his decree.  Another possibility is that such letters may have been effective even without this action, but Akbar may have done it because that was part of the recognized ritual of the emperor “writing” a letter.  Or Akbar may have had other reasons.  The point is that Akbar's reasons may have had little to do with what the writing on the page contains or represents. 

[109] Maclagen (1932) pp. 227-8; Bailey (1999) pp. 115-6.

[110] Wellesz (1952) p. 26.

[111] Bailey (1998) p. 38. Bailey (1999) pp. 140-1.

[112] Mathews (1998) p. 65.  Hodigitria is also spelled hodegetria in the scholarly literature.

[113] Cormack (2000) p. 32; Cruz (1993) p. 137, quoted in Frisk (2002).  For a similarly story regarding the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, see SSPX (2002).

[114] Cormack (2000) pp. 28-9, 32.

[115] Frisk (2002).

[116] Maclagen (1932) pp. 227-8.

[117] One painting was “a picture made in Goa of that St. Mary Majore,” which seems to be the same as “the picture of Our Lady that was there, from the painting of St. Luke, done by Brother Manuel Godinho.”  When members of Akbar’s court “went to see the one of St. Luke inside the church, which Fr. Francis Henriques had kept ready with its scents and oil-lamps from Mecca…,” they reportedly “could no longer contain their great joy at seeing the Infant Jesus in his Mother’s arms.”  Correia-Afonso (1980) pp. 60, 31, 33.  The other painting brought in 1580 was “another beautifully executed representation of Our Lady brought by Fr. Martin da Silva from Rome.  It was an alter-piece given to Akbar in 1580.  Correia-Afonso (1980) p. 31, 33-4.   One painting of Mary is described as showing the “queen of heaven, seated on her throne” (id. p. 48).  See also du Jarric (1926) pp. 160-3.  As  Bailey (1999) p. 228, ft. 20 points out, contra Correia-Afonson (1980) p. 31 ft. 6, this other painting probably was not a copy of the Salus Populi Romani, which does not show Mary seated.  

[118] Correia-Afonso (1980) p. 33, 34, 48.  See also Monserrate (c. 1591), p. 176.

[119] Id. pp. 30-1.

[120] For images of the Salus Populi Romani, see Frisk (2002) and Belting (1994) fig. 21.  McCall (1948) fig. 22 shows a sixteenth-century copy of the painting.  Welch (1978) p. 18, fig. 1 shows a madonna with Mughal style and hodigitria iconography.  Id. dates it ca. 1575, but undoubtedly it was created after 1580, when the Jesuit paintings of Mary arrived in Akbar’s court.

[121] On portraits in Akbar's courts, including a selection of images, see Brand and Lowry (1985) pp. 79-84.  This also seems true of portraits under the subsequent two Mughal emperors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. See, for example, the paintings included in Thackston (1999) and Welch and Welch (1982), especially pl. 67, the (diplomatically) important portrait of Shah Abbas I.  While Islam, like Judaism, has historically had concerns about images of persons in religious texts and spaces, there is figural Islamic and Jewish art.  Some ceramics from the Islamic world in the tenth through the thirteenth centuries show faces with eyes looking out at the viewer.  In the Freer Gallery Washington, DC, such pieces include a jar from 10’th century Iraq  [F1953.90, published in Atil (1975) pl. 12] and matched bowls showing a crowned male and female, from the Kashan center of 13’th century Iran [67.24, 67.25].

[122] One of my friends in graduate school left Iran to avoid being forced to fight in the war between Iran and Iraq that caused the death of about a million males.  I still remember him speaking to me about the power of Ayatollah Khomeini’s eyes, the way his “look” affected ordinary persons.

[123] Du Jarric (c. 1604) pp. 160-1, 271 ed. fn. 4.  The third Jesuit mission to Akbar brought this painting from Portugal about 1600.  It is not one of the first two paintings of Mary brought to Akbar in 1580.  An image of the Madonna del Popolo is available at Greenhalgh (2003).

[124] Du Jarric (c. 1604) p. 168.  The previous details about interest in the icon are from id. pp. 163-71.

[125] Babur, in his observations for the year 911 AH (1505-6 G.C.), noted this about Mir Sarbirahna:

Among the learned men and poets of Khurasan his word carries great weight.  He has wasted his life, however, on an imitation of the story of Amir Hamza and has produced a lengthy, overlong pack of lies contrary to good taste and sound reason.

Thackston (1996) p. 220 (folio 176 in original text).

[126] Seyller (2002) p. 34.  Based on the catalog of 186 Mughal manuscripts in Seyller (1997), pp, 280-340, a typical Mughal illustrated manuscript has about 3-14 paintings, while a few had 130-160 paintings.  A knowledgeable scholar estimates that a typical sixteenth-century Persian illustrated manuscript had 50-60 paintings among 500-600 folios (Simpson (2002) p. 132).  A single volume of the Hamzanama, at least for the initial volumes, had a production cost 2.5 times greater than the highest valuation recorded for a manuscript in the imperial Mughal library.  Seyller (2002) p. 34 (production cost of 50,000 rupees per volume) and Seyller (1997) Table 1, p. 274 (table of manuscript valuations).  Seyller (2002) p. 34 notes that, in contrast to other Mughal manuscripts, most of the investment in the Hamzanama was in the painting, not in the calligraphy.

[127] Seyller (2002) p. 43.

[128] Id. p. 36.  Nadir Shah may not have taken all of the Hamzanama, and some of what Nadir Shah took  may have been seized by Sikhs who attacked him as he returned to Persia.

[129] Owen (2002) p. 282.

[130]  The quote is from the Victoria and Albert Museum's description of  its acquisition of its Hamzanama folios.  See  The situation does not reflect lack of interest in the adventures of Hamza, which were widely popular as printed text in this region at that time.  See Pritchett (1991) pp. 7, 14, 22-34.