The Women in His Life

In Babur’s memoirs, we learn that he sought advice from female relatives; humbly obeyed his mother; and dithered, at least sometimes, in matters of romance. Although these episodes are rarely illustrated, they are evoked in paintings from Babur’s lifetime.

The first painting depicts the harem of Babur’s ancestor Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara. Surrounded by his favorites, the ruler observes a female dance troupe from above as a servant offers wine in a decorated bowl. A similar bowl, once owned by Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara, may be seen in the Diplomacy section.

The wedding night scene illustrates a romance. The tentative body language of the central figures mirrors Babur’s frank description of his first marriage at age seventeen. Babur recounts that he was so shy around his wife that his mother was forced to intervene “with the severity of a quartermaster,” making him visit her every month.

Harem of Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara
Attributed to Shah-Muzaffar
Historic Iran, present-day Afghanistan, Herat, 1481 (AH 886)
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Lent by The Art and History Collection

In the words of Babur…

Babur describes his shyness with his first wife:

“Sultan-Ahmad Mirza’s daughter Ayisha Sultan Begim, who had been affianced to me while my father and uncle were still alive, came to Khodzhent, and we were married in the month of Sha‘ban [March 1500]. In the early days after the wedding, although my affection for her was not lacking, since it was my first marriage and I was bashful, I went to her only once every ten, fifteen, or twenty days. Later on, I lost my fondness for her altogether, and I was still shy. Once every month or forty days my mother the khanïm drove me to her with all the severity of a quartermaster.”

Thackston, Wheeler M., trans. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. New York: Oxford University Press in association with Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1996. 89.