Mughal Paintings and Chinese Landscape Paintings

Daniel Judianto
Arths 193
Instructor: Tiao Chinghuey

Mughal Paintings and Chinese Landscape Paintings

For my term paper, I will be comparing two paintings from India and China. The Indian painting that I have chosen is the Mughal painting “Akbar Viewing a Wild Elephant Captured near Malwa in 1564 from Akbar Nama.” by La'l and Sanwlah. The Chinese painting that I will take a look at is by Ju-Ran, “Buddhist Monastery in Stream and Mountain Landscape”. These paintings caught my attention with their own unique qualities. I am very open to art and can appreciate almost any types of paintings. However, I am especially attracted to the use of color in Mughal paintings and the fluidity of the brush strokes in Chinese Monumental Mode paintings. Moreover, the subjects of these paintings, animals and nature, are some of the things that I feel have been alienated from our society. Looking at these two paintings made me realize what I have been missing all these while. I hope that by truly absorbing the meaning of these paintings, I can become connected again with nature and animals that share this Earth with us. These two arts from two different parts of Asia may be radically different from each other but from this class, I have learned not to judge art. With this mentality, I can enjoy the arts from different cultures without a biased point of view.

“Akbar Viewing a Wild Elephant Captured near Malwa in 1564 from Akbar Nama.” is a very realistic portrait of an event. What I am truly amazed by is the generous use of color as an important element of the painting. There are three elephants in the painting and each of them has a different color. The single elephant in the middle-ground is slightly brown, the elephant on the left of the foreground is dark gray in color and the one to the right of it has a shade of blue. This is proof that the artists who painted this painting were very particular to minute details. To the Mughal artists, no detail was too insignificant to be overlooked. Judging from their choices of color, I am pretty sure that they tried to manipulate colors to achieve realism. However, there seem to be instances where the use of color is not very accurate. Akbar's horse looks maroon in the painting and I believe that the artists were trying to portray a dark reddish brown horse. I am not sure if this was done intentionally of if it was due to a lack of certain color pigments. I find this very interesting because in the same painting, we can see both accurate and not so accurate uses of color.

The medium of this painting is ink and color on paper. The ink used in this painting makes the painting looks “dry” when compared to a Chinese Calligraphic painting. There is almost no sense of motion and the whole painting looks like a snapshot of that one instance in time. The texture of this painting, however, is very commendable. The elephants look almost alive because I can “feel” the texture of their skins. The Mughal artists masterfully captured the effects of light on the skins of the elephants and created shadow-like effects on their skins. I refer to the effect as “shadow-like” because there seems to be almost no shadows on the ground in this painting. This makes the painting looks “flat” and lacking depth. The background, middle ground and foreground are not clearly separated. The texture of some of the objects, such as the horse, is also rather plain. Akbar's horse looks extremely flat and its skin is too smooth to be realistic. These differences between the way the elephants and the horse were treated lead me to believe that the main focus of this painting are the elephants. The artists seemed to have put in great effort to make the elephants look as realistic as possible but they did not treat the other objects in the paintings with the same meticulous care.

Another unique characteristic of this painting is the defined lines. The lines in this painting are obvious so little is left to our imagination. When we look at the elephant, for example, every line depicts an elephant so there can be no argument that it is something other than an elephant. This is the complete opposite to abstract paintings where we have to exercise our imagination to recognize what the objects in the paintings truly are. The part of this painting that is different from the rest is the way the artists painted the leaves. If we take a look closely, the leaves are not depicted by lines. They are depicted by what looks like watercolor. There could be many possible reasons for this. One reason that I particularly find interesting is that because the leaves were the objects always in constant motion, the artists portrayed them in a different manner so this effect can be replicated on a painting.

Overall, “Akbar Viewing a Wild Elephant Captured near Malwa n 1564 from Akbar Nama.” is a very dense painting because almost every inch of the paper was covered by the artists. Looking at this painting requires deep concentration because we should not overlook the small details such as the leaves or the castle in the background. The painting is dense because the artists tried to capture everything in this portrait. It is supposed to be as real as possible so that we, as the audience, will feel as though we are actually witnessing the actual event itself. This painting makes me feel agitated. The chaos in the painting makes me feel uneasy because my eyes are attracted to so many spots at the same instance. I believe Chinese in the Song dynasty period would not have enjoyed this painting because their art placed great emphasis on fluidity, tranquility and serenity. This painting conveys chaos, force and disarray. I also feel very upset because the elephants look so real and they look pitiful in this painting. I have a soft heart for animals and this portrait that shows humans being cruel to animals is not my favorite theme in a piece of art. From the book “Indian Painting: From Cave Temples to the Colonial Period”, I learned that this type of Mughal paintings have numerous influences from other cultures. The overall vivid color of the painting comes mainly from Persian influence,which is the foundation upon which Mughal paintings were built upon. The “flat” feeling of the painting and the not-so-realistic horse with its decoration are more evidences of Persian influence. However, the painting is not purely Persian in its style. Many believed that the realistic use of texture on the elephants was due to European influence and Chiaroscuro. This makes sense to me because in the whole picture, the elephants are most real-looking objects and the European technique of Chiaroscuro emphasizes lighting and shadows to achieve realism. I also believe the leaves in this painting carry European influence. History records tell us that Akbar kept Dutch Landscape paintings and upon looking up some of these paintings, I can see hints of similarities in the way leaves are portrayed. The leaves were painted using strokes instead of lines and they really stand out in a painting where everything else are depicted by lines. All these influences from other cultures make Mughal paintings very special because the artists had an open mind and they were not afraid to bring in foreign elements into their paintings. Moreover, even though life-like icons were shunned by Islam, Akbar the Great had an idea that when artists paint, they are realizing how great God is with his creations. I especially love this idea because when we try to paint something, we have to observe the object carefully in order to make the painting look realistic. I am sure that through their observations, the Mughal artists discovered numerous details that were overlooked by artists from other cultures back then. To fully appreciate Mughal paintings, we need to have a basic understanding of their origin and the knowledge that Mughal artists were very open-minded and tolerant to art forms from other cultures. We can then proceed to enjoy the rich elements, originated from different parts the world, in a single Mughal painting.

“Buddhist Monastery in Stream and Mountain Landscape” by Ju-Ran is a painting very different from “Akbar Viewing a Wild Elephant Captured near Malwa in 1564 from Akbar Nama.” In this painting, we can see much more fluidity, flow and motion because the artist used brush strokes instead of lines. The texture of this painting is also very well-detailed in the foreground. I am amazed at how accurately the trees and Monastery were painted but the small cliff and mountain were lacking in details. This is by far not a negative point. I am sure that not many will disagree that the main object in this picture is the mountain in the background. Ju-Ran does not throw the mountain straight to us. He makes us start from the bottom of the painting where the stream and trees are and he uses elements that lead our eyes upwards towards the towering mountain. I believe the lack of detail in the mountain is mainly because the artist was trying to show that the mountain is far in the background. As we move from the foreground to the background, it is inevitable that we will lose some details along the way. I find it strange but the lack of detail actually makes the mountain look more realistic. Furthermore, Ju Ran is able to trigger our imagination and I am able to feel that I am actually a part of the painting. The Chinese shunned paintings that were too realistic but during the Song period, the time that this painting was created, artists were trying hard to achieve believability in their paintings. Ju Ran did not just merely add more details to his painting. He triggered our imagination, made our eyes travel across the painting and allowed our mind to fill in the missing details. He is truly a master because this painting does not only please the eyes, it also pleases the mind.

Ju Ran has also created depth in his painting. There is no doubt that the audience will believe that they can walk through the painting. I can see a clear separation between the foreground, where the Monastery and the trees are, and the middle ground, where it is just mainly upward leading strokes to show the mountain, and the background where the summit of the mountain lies. Ju Ran manipulated shadows in this painting. I can see different shades of darkness in the shadows he created by just using his brush. The most prominent example that I can see is at the summit of the mountain. Ju Ran used shadows to show us that the summit is “C” shaped instead of being flat. Another very significant quality of “Buddhist Monastery in Stream and Mountain Landscape” is that it was painted on silk. Silk is one most difficult medium to be painted on and Ju Ran painted this so perfectly that I did not even realize that the medium is silk until I looked at the caption. I believe some of the fluidity can be attributed to the silk because silk is so smooth and graceful.

Lastly but most importantly, in “Buddhist Monastery in Stream and Mountain Landscape”, Ju Ran utilizes space in the painting. We can feel some empty spaces in various parts of the painting and these give the audience “breathing rooms”. In “Akbar Viewing a Wild Elephant Captured near Malwa in 1564 from Akbar Nama.”, I felt that I was suffocated by all the details that the artists were trying to compress in a limited space. I get a different feeling with Ju Ran's painting. I feel peaceful and calm when I look at “Buddhist Monastery in Stream and Mountain Landscape” and my mind could focus on the object that Ju Ran intended to emphasize which is the towering mountain. The spaces also act like invisible arrows, pointing upward, guiding our eyes up from the bottom of the painting. This creates the very important “path” in the picture that Song artists were trying to achieve. The main goal of Ju Ran's painting is unlike the goal of “Akbar Viewing a Wild Elephant Captured near Malwa in 1564 from Akbar Nama”, which is to capture an exact portrait of the event happening. The goal of “Buddhist Monastery in Stream and Mountain Landscape” is to capture the feeling of being there, to capture the peace that Ju Ran felt when he was painting the picture, to capture the awe when he witnessed the towering, mighty mountain. This painting has definitely made me feel all those emotions so Ju Ran's objective has been achieved.

In conclusion, I still would like to emphasize that I enjoy both paintings and I recognize the unique talents that each artist had. This term paper has made me realize that every painting conveys different feelings and emotions. In addition to feeling what the artist wants us to feel, we can also analyze the techniques artists use to accomplish their goals. The elements in “Buddhist Monastery in Stream and Mountain Landscape” and “Akbar Viewing a Wild Elephant Captured near Malwa in 1564 from Akbar Nama” are very unique in their own ways and have shown me how arts from different cultures can catch the eyes of the same person. Even though these works of art are from a time way before mine and from cultures foreign to me, I can still learn to appreciate and enjoy the paintings. With an open mind, art from any culture can be beautiful and mesmerizing to me.


Lee, Sherman E. A History of Far Eastern Art, Prentice Hall/Harry Abrams, NY 1994. (Classic text, 5th edition)

“Indian Painting-- from Cave Temples to the Colonial Period” by Joan Cummis

“Arts of China – Paintings in Chinese Museums” Yoshiho Yonezawa and Michiaki Kawakita

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Artist 藝術家 . (簡歷) College Instructor 大學講師 . Newspaper Columnist 報紙專欄作家 . Traveler 旅行者 旅住歐美多年; 藝術碩士(MFA, Honored with Distinction) 美國大學教藝術史,教學評鑑獲特優(College instructor, Art History,Teaching Evaluation Exceeding Excellence).