Pigments and gold on paper
India, Deccan,17th –18th century
Painting: 14,5 by 23,3 cm; Page: 16,8 by 25,5 cm
The theme of composite creatures was very sought after in Persia and India from the second half of the 16th century onwards. Even if it is difficult to understand the exact meaning of these esoteric images it is possible to link them to the illustration of the multiplicity of the world versus the unity of God, or to the numerous passions that we have to control as the rider of our lives.
This type of iconography, following recent research by Armen Tokatlian, would find its source in illustrations of Armenian manuscripts by Grigoris, Catholicos of Aghtamar (1510 – 1534) who was also painter and poet.
A similar painting, dated early 17th century and coming from the “Shir Jang” album from the Smith-Lesouëf collection, is kept at the National Library of France (Manuscripts Department, Smith-Lesouëf 247, f. 32v)
According to Amina Okada, who published the National Librairy’s miniature, “grotesque compositions of this sort, where a demon instead of ‘Solomon’ rides the composite mount (an elephant, horse or camel) while Fancy as another demon runs ahead, proved increasingly popular in seventeenth- and eighteenth- century Islamicate India”.
For an article on composite animals in Persian and Indian painting, see the Louvre exhibition catalogue: L’Etrange et le Merveilleux en terres d’Islam, Musée du Louvre, 2001, Paris: Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, pp. 76-82.