Akbar came into contact with Western painting, which from the first seems to have roused in him intense interest, through the Portuguese Jesuits. He invited a Jesuit mission to his Court, and in 1580 the Fathers, to whom he always showed particular favour, presented him with a copy of Plantyn's Polyglot Bible, illustrated with Flemish engravings. Before long he set his painters to copy and adapt European paintings. Both he and his son Jahangir welcomed as presents religious and secular pictures, with which they used to adorn their palaces. Later Sir Thomas Roe, James the First's Ambassador to Jahanglr, discovered that there was no surer method of cultivating his intimacy than by procuring him pictures, especially portraits by European artists. The Court nobles followed, and no doubt shared, the taste of their sovereign for Western painting. There are indications, further, that, though the impetus came from above, the foreign style appealed to Indians of all classes. A particularly striking passage supporting this view occurs in an account by the Portuguese Father Guerreiro of an incident that occurred in the year 1602.
The Jesuits had brought to Agra a copy of the large Madonna of S. Maria del Popolo at Rome, and when it was displayed in their church it created a profound sensation. People of all walks of life, beginning with the humblest, came in their thousands, day after day, and stood before it speechless with emotion and weeping, and when it was taken before Akbar he rose, removed his turban, and paid it reverence. The account of the Father, though possibly coloured by enthusiasm, is certainly suggestive. In the light of such considerations as the traces of modelling at Ajanta, and the persistently close realism of Indian animal sculpture, it seems at least possible that the Indian sculptural heritage and the habit of viewing objects in the round may have had something to do with cultivating a desire to express depth and volume in painting.
Many of the paintings of Akbar's period were signed, but apart from a very few they do not reveal distinct individual traits, the painters merging their individuality in a common manner. This remains true for the most part of later work also, though that of a few painters can be identified with some confidence. In Akbar's time several painters often collaborated in a single picture.