The paintings of Shah Jahan's reign (1627-58)—though the Emperor, whose artistic bent was mainly architectural, seems not to have shown the enthusiasm of his two predecessors—maintained on the whole, and even in some directions advanced on, the standards reached under Jahangir. In portraiture existing examples often show astonishing psychological insight. Many of them are most delicate line drawings, sometimes slightly coloured. It was for certain portraits of this period that Sir Joshua Reynolds expressed his admiration; the line work has been compared by some critics to that of Holbein or Clouet.
The painting now includes a wider range of genre subjects and takes on a less exclusively aristocratic colour, the life of the common people, appearing before only in glimpses, being now the subject here and there of separate studies, often of great verisimilitude and humour.
It would be outside the purpose of this article to trace the qualities of the later developments, or to attempt to describe the various forms which painting assumed, whether at the centre or in the provincial courts to which it spread after the dispersal of the painters under the puritanical ban of Aurangzeb (1658—1707). In general indigenous elements reasserted themselves; side by side with a growing; romanticism, nature tends to give place to further stylization, as in the familiar garden terrace scenes with formal backgrounds against which profile figures of a statuesque immobility are so often portrayed. Persian grace and European freedom of drawing show ever fainter traces, till closer contact with the West produced its inevitable results.
It is a mistake, though an understandable one, to regard Mughal painting merely as a foreign importation, without roots or permanence. It is, incontestably, a synthesis. It arose through the teaching of Persian artists, but the pupils did not paint like Persians. It borrowed even more freely from Europe than from Persia, but it remained true in essence to Indian traditional ideals, which asserted themselves more and more till the foreign borrowings became little more than reminiscences.