Elephants, Rhinoceroses, and Camels


One point that became apparent in a survey of elephants in Islamic and related art is that the elephants associated with the Indian sub-continent are most usually portrayed as having banded tusks and/or shortened tusks. The incidences of full and unbanded tusked elephants seemed most common with the Mughal artist Miskin until much later Hindu artists. Another point is that with elephants attributed to the reign of the Padshah Jahangir, domed craniums are more prevalent. Conventional-cranium elephants are more often seen in the Akbar era or much later; however, the much-later elephants are not usually seen grouped with Persianate fantastic animals.


Detail from the The Widener Mughal Animal Carpet
Detail - from the rug

Detail: “Siege of Ranthambhor”
Detail - "Siege of Ranthambhor"
Composition by Miskin, circa 1590.

Detail: “Prince Selim Hunting A Lion”
Detail - "Prince Selim Hunting A Lion"
India, Mughal. Unidentified artist but at least in the style of Miskin. Selim was, of course, Jahangir prior to succeeding his father.

Detail: “The Surrender Of Qandahar” from the Padshahnama, circa 1640
Detail - from "The Surrender Of Qandahar"
I include this elephant for contrast. Note the massive size of the elephant as compared to the rider. This massive elephant is the style that became fashionable under Jahangir and stayed that way into the reign of Shah Jahan. While not as extreme as some, this elephant exhibits the greater cranial dome trait of later Mughal Elephants.

Mughal Fighting Elephant Fragment
Mughal Fighting Elephant Fragment
Origin: Lahore India, circa 1630 (+ or – 15 years).

Mughal Elephants In Battle, c. 1595 – 1600
Mughal Elephants In Battle c. 1595 - 1600
A battle scene with combatants mounted on elephants and horses, in the background a fortress on fire with further troops fighting on foot: illustration from a manuscript of the Akbarnama, Mughal, c.1595 – 1600. Gouache with gold on paper, laid down on an album page with margins ruled in blue and gold.



“Isfandiyar Hunting Lions,” by Miskin
Isfandiyar Hunting Lions By Miskin
Origin: From The Shahnama of Firdausi. Northern India, 1580 – 1585.

Notes: Stylistically, this is a very early example of Miskin’s work. In many ways it lacks the refinement of his later work, but it was viewed favorably by the court and Miskin emerged as a major artist due in part to the work he did on this Shahnama. The rocks are very well drawn, as is the tree, but the animals lack the realism that we see from Miskin just a few year later. Miskin’s Isfandiyar on horseback is copied from the portrayal of Gushtasp we see in the same manuscript by Kesu the Younger (Gushtasp Slays The Dragon, Folio 242a). Kesu’s rendering of horse and trappings are clearly superior to Miskin’s. At this point Kesu the Younger was the senior artist, but a few years later Miskin eclipsed Kesu to be one the most important Mughal artists.

Detail - Isfandiyar Hunting Lions

Detail from the The Widener Mughal Animal Carpet
Detail from the The Widener Mughal Animal Carpet
Compare the ears, the head, the neck, and the hooves. It is worth noting that rhinoceroses are extremely rare in Mughal art and Miskin is one of very few artists who portrays them.



Detail from the The Widener Mughal Animal Carpet
Detail from the The Widener Mughal Animal Carpet

Unknown artist, Timurid Sketch
Unknown artist Timurid Sketch
Date: circa 1400 to 1450

Fighting Camels in the style of Mohammadi
Fighting Camels in the style of Mohammadi
Origin: Mid-Sixteenth century, Mashad or Herat.

Please note the extravagant camel trappings, particularly the Elephant.

Detail: “Two Fighting Camels” by Abd as-Samad. Mughal India, circa 1585
Detail: "Two Fighting Camels"
Abd as-Samad, or Abdul Samad as some would call him, was Miskin’s colleague, teacher, and contemporary.