A Naturalist’s Eye

folio depicting two wild bulls
This folio is from the emperor Akbar’s personal copy of the Baburnama. It was a collaborative effort between Kanha, a senior artist, and Mansur, one of the greatest Mughal painters of natural history. Kanha drew the composition and Mansur painted it, supplying additional details to Babur’s description. His delicate brushwork highlights details of the animals’ forms, such as the soft hair on their muzzles and the shiny, rippled surfaces of their horns.

Two Wild Buffalo
Folio from the First Baburnama
Designed by Kanha and painted by Mansur
India, Mughal dynasty, ca. 1589
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
F1954.29 (obverse)

In the words of Babur…

The two sides of this page are a single leaf from Akbar’s Baburnama manuscript. In the text on these pages, Babur records in detail the appearances of animals that are particular to Hindustan:

“Another [animal that is particular to Hindustan] is the wild buffalo, which is much larger than our oxen. Like ours, however, its horns curve backward without touching the back. It is a dangerous, ferocious animal.

Nilgai. The nilgai is as tall but more slender than a horse. The male is blue, which is probably why it is called nilgau [indigo cow]. It has two smallish horns. On its throat it has hair longer than a span that resembles a yak tail. Its hooves are like those of a cow. The female’s color is like that of a doe, and it has no horns or hair on its throat. The female is also plumper than the male.

Hog deer. The hog deer is as large as a white deer, but its fore- and hind legs are shorter, for which reason it is called kutahpay [short legged]. Its horns are branched like a stag’s but smaller. Like the stag, it sheds its horns annually. It is a poor runner, and for that reason it never leaves the forest.”

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. 337.