Fantastic Animals Persia and Mughal India

The Persianate Fantastic Animals are representative of animals seen in a wide range of classical carpets and art. From the Timurid into the Safavi period and as such are often seen in Persian animal carpets. These fantastic animals are seen in Mughal art from the sixteenth century well into the seventeenth. The concept of a wide range of mythical creatures seems to runs decidedly contrary to the “Naturalistic” style that came into vogue under the Padishah Jahangir 1605 to 1628, but they are used all through that period. Examples of Fantastic Animals are most prevalent in the Fantastical Realism that was seen under the Padishah Akbar and take a generally diminishing role from 1605 on. We see this in the portrayal of dragons. We do see dragons that are from the Timurid roots and can be seen in an increasingly degenerative state in Mughal art as time passes.

Both Aqa Mirak and Miskin were masters of the style of portraying action. We can see that same portrayal of action in the carpet as well as in Miskin’s other work. When studying Miskin it is more important to study the style of portrayal than the animals themselves. Many artists portrayed much of the same imagery but none in his genre mastered the explosive action quality of Miskin. For our rather limited purposes here I must note that no other artist of that era can be associated with all the animals related to the Mughal Animal carpet as can Miskin. Every animal in the carpet can be found in Miskin’s work with the exception of the mythical canine. That of course may be due to the fact that only a small portion of Miskin’s work is known to exist today. and I note that I did not find that particular iconographic representation in anyone else’s work.


Azhdar (Persian name used for this type of dragon)
Detail from the Azhdar rug
Please note the similarities in the fangs, the center spiked ridge, the ribbed back, and the feathery streamers in this detail and the one directly below.

Detail: “The Raven Addresses the Assembled Animals”
Detail - "The Raven Addresses the Assembled Animals"
Origin: Circa 1590, ascribed to Miskin.

Margin illustrations from the “Golestan of Sa’di”
Margin illustrations from the "Golestan of Sa'di"
Origin: Attributed to Persian artist Aqa Mirak, circa 1530.

The Fantastic Animals are certainly more in the design repertoire that came down through Persia and Central Asia. So, how then would a Hindu artist in the Mughal Kitab Khana like Miskin become aquatinted with this design repertoire? We know that Miskin went through a course of study at the court of Akbar where he was exposed to these animals. These Fantastic Animals are from a Persian book owned by Akbar. And were used by his artists to study and copy. The Imperial Kitab Khana brought in promising artists and led them through a course of study, apprenticeship, and then as far as their talents could take them. Miskin’s work bears so many similarities to Aqa Mirak, we must presume that he copied them. As I allude to in the section on fighting camels, it is normal for art to be copied by a wide range of artists over a period of time. A young artist such as Miskin would identify qualities he admired in an earlier artist, and then would learn from him by copying works of his art.

Margin illustrations from the "Golestan of Sa'di"
N. B. Margin illustrations are often more esthetically aligned to carpets than the miniatures themselves. Please note how these margin illustrations have a mixture of pictorial elements and flowers as such as we might see in a carpet. I have yet to see a Mughal carpet which is a unified pictorial representation of a scene as we may see in Miniatures. Instead we get a pastiche of similar but not unified icons. Miniatures are a higher form of art. They are art unto themselves and as such are a primary art form. Margins and carpets are secondary art and are meant to be seen in relationship to other things. A miniature without a border is a complete work of art. But, a border without a miniature is less than whole. To really understand Mughal carpets we must learn that to which they were secondary.

Detail: From the Rug
Detail - from the rug
Please note the split tail, with the wisps at the split, the feathery streamers from the shoulders and the legs, and the similar long ears.