Emperor Aurangzeb in a Shaft of Light with later floral border from The St. Petersburg Album

Artist: Attributed to Hunhar
Calligrapher: Imad al-Hasani (died 1615)
Borders: Muhammad Baqir (mid-18th century) Muhammad-Hadi
Historical period(s)
Mughal dynasty, Reign of Aurangzeb, ca. 1660, borders mid-18th c.
Mughal Court
Mughal School
Opaque watercolor on paper with gold
H x W: 47.2 x 32.2 cm (18 9/16 x 12 11/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Album, Painting

Album leaf with painting

emperor, flower, India, Libra, moon, Mughal dynasty (1526 - 1858), nasta'liq script, poems, portrait, vina

To 1739
Mughal Imperial Library, India, to 1739 [1]

To late 19th century
Persian Imperial Library, to late 19th century [2]

Private European collection (possibly Russian Imperial Library) [3]

To 1996
Terence McInerney Fine Arts Ltd., New York City, to 1996

From 1996
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Terence McInerney Fine Arts Ltd. in 1996


[1] Indian paintings in the St. Petersburg Album left India in 1739 with the loot taken to Iran by Nadir Shah, following his sack of Delhi. The pages left Tehran in the early 1900s and were dispersed into European collections, including that of Tsar Nicholas II (according to Curatorial Note 4, Milo C. Beach, February 26, 1996, in the object record). See also the object record for F1994.4, Curatorial Note 5, Milo C. Beach, March 4, 1994.

[2] See note 1.

[3] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Terence McInerney Fine Arts, Ltd.
Persian Imperial Library
Mughal Imperial Library


The garden setting may be a reference to Agharabad (later called Shalimar), an imperial garden eight miles northwest of Delhi which contained some fine imperial buildings.  It was in this garden that Aurangzeb declared himself emperor and celebrated his first coronation (21 July 1658). This painting appears to depict the response of heaven to Aurangzeb's declaration. It can be seen as Aurangzeb's apotheosis, and the borrowed elements copied from a European religious print only helped the artist to heighten the otherworldly perspective.

Aurangzeb's second coronation was celebrated nearly one year later (5 June 1659) after his triumph in the War of Succession was nearly complete. This second, or real, coronation was celebrated at the imperial seat of power in the Red Fort at Delhi.  In contrast to the modest first event, the second coronation was the most splendid ever celebrated by a Mughal emperor.  The festivities lasted for more than two months.

The triumphal symbolism that marked the second imperial coronation is also reflected in the unusual iconography of the present picture. The moon and the light it casts--the only charged element in the painting--are central to its meaning in several ways.  The moon isolates and aggrandizes Aurangzeb, the sole figure upon which it shines. 

Published References
  • Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857. Exh. cat. New York. p. 2.
  • Gauvin Bailey. The Jesuits and the Grand Mogul: Renaissance Art at the Imperial Court of India, 1580-1630. vol. 2 Washington, 1998. p. 39, fig. 29.
  • Philippe Bruguière. A 17th century vina: Reflection of Mughal splendor (Une vina du XVIIe siècle: Reflet de la splendeur moghole). Paris, France, 2022. p. 51.
  • Milo Cleveland Beach. The Imperial Image: Paintings for the Mughal Court., 2nd ed. Washington and Ahmedabad, India, 2012. cat. 22G, pp. 134-5.
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. pp. 188-189.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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