The Mughal invasion of India, with its establishment, under a powerful dynasty, of an essentially Persian culture at the centre, meant that two radically different civilizations were brought into intimate contact with each other; and as far as painting was concerned, the stimulus of Persian masters and Persian technique awoke in Indian artists an ancient talent that had been gradually declining from classic standards.
The founder of the dynasty, Babur, was a Turkish prince, with the prestige of a direct descendant of Tamerlane, and the tastes of a cultivated Persian gentleman. He had visited Herat at a time when that city was the acknowledged world centre of Islamic literary and artistic life, when Bihzad, greatest of all Persian painters, was at the height of his powers. Babur, as his Memoirs testify, was himself interested in painting, but neither he nor his son Humayun (1530-1556), who spent most of his reign in exile, ruled long enough in India to leave a lasting personal impress. Humayun however, while in Persia, had come into contact with the great court painters of that country, two of the most accomplished of whom, Mir Sayyid Ali and Khwaja Abd al-Samad, he induced to enter his service. Both were highly honoured in India, one being given a title ('Marvel of the Realm'), while the other was made Master of the Mint in the succeeding reign; and these two were entrusted in turn with the duty of superintending the illustration of the Romance of the Islamic hero, Amir Hamza, a task in which fifty painters, including many Indians, are said to have been employed. The execution of this ambitious work, which entailed over two thousand very large illustrations, seems to have formed a kind of training school for the Indian artists. (A number of these paintings still survive, many at South Kensington and the British Museum.)
The characteristics of mature Persian painting are by now sufficiently well known to need no detailed description here; it is a two-dimensional art, ideally suitable for manuscript illustration, eschewing shading and perspective, essentially decorative in intention, and marked above all by its brilliant use of mosaics of pure colour, and its swift calligraphic line drawing. Its conventions, such as the high hill background, certain stereotyped gestures, the adoption of several points of view simultaneously, the employment of elaborate patterns in carpets or canopies or architectural details, its Chinese cloud forms, its flowers affectionately enlarged, are all deliberate departures from nature into a world of sheer romance.
If we compare the Hamza illustrations with Persian work, we are struck by obvious differences. With a few exceptions, which, apart from such matters as costume, are purely Persian in appearance, there is a certain confusion in these elaborate and often forceful compositions; the strong colours are sometimes unsatisfactory; in the drawing of trees and other features there is a new naturalism. Thus early-Чthough it would appear probable that most of the Hamza illustrations belong to Akbar's reign Ч the Indian painters were showing their independence; and in the painting of Akbar's reign generally this is quite unmistakable.