Aesthetics of the Classical Period of the Islamic Mughal Empire in India through a Portrait of Abū al-Fath Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad Akbar

  • Nina PETEK Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana
Keywords: Mughal aesthetics, miniature painting, hybrid art, Akbar the Great


The reign of Abū al-Fath Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad Akbar (1556–1605) was a fruitful period of the political, cultural and spiritual synthesis of Persian, Indian, and European tradition, as well as an artistic and aesthetic renaissance. This cosmopolitan, universal and charismatic ruler strived for the external, political, material and spiritual well-being of his colourful empire. In search of a balance between the external and internal, and in his endeavours for the unification and uniformity of India he gradually created a completely new style of Mughal arts, which is a stunning reflection of his personality’s transformations, principles, insights, interests, and spiritual growth.

The paper focuses on a psychological portrait of the ruler, who dictated aesthetics and the style of the classical period of Mughal arts which consists of the three basic developmental phases of Akbar’s enigmatic character. The thesis on the parallel development of Akbar’s personality and Mughal arts is supported by research on the influence of certain European and Persian aesthetic elements, and mainly on the influence of Indian philosophical-religious tradition (the doctrines on rasa, bhakti, yoga, and tantra). The early period of Mughal arts, with predominantly realistic elements, coincides with the ruler’s dynamic, youthful enthusiasm and immense curiosity to acquaint himself the most varied aspects of external events and appearances. The second, the mature period, which enriches this earlier realism by means of mystical elements and the symbolism of Indian pre-Mughal painting, is marked by the shift into the interior and by searching for the harmony between the material and spiritual. In the late period of Mughal painting, however, reflexive and lyrical works prevail, which are a reflection of completion of Akbar’s spiritual quests, and the unique project of multifaceted synthesis that he undertook and promoted. 

Author Biography

Nina PETEK, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana

Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana



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Islamic Theory and Philosophy