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A Prince Visits a Hermit

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Attributed to Abd al Samad - ca. 1585

This colourful rocky landscape depicts a prince visiting a hermit at his cave. The prince is seated pensively before the hermit while his eight attendants wait on both sides of a small creek. His stately horse appears to be the focus of the painting, its grand and stocky figure occupying the major part of the lower half of the painting and emphasized by a natural halo formed by the sandy-coloured ground upon which it rests. As Anthony Welch has observed, the stallion was a symbol of authority and splendour but also one of “worldly impermanence” (Welch and Welch 1982, p. 160). Along with the brightly and colourfully dressed servants, the great horse stands in stark contrast to the hermit and his companion (perhaps a disciple), who sits before the cave at the water’s edge; their gaunt figures indicate their renouncement of worldly possessions in favour of following the path to enlightenment through mysticism. The top half of the painting evokes an air of meditation and sombreness that affects even the prince, who may have come here seeking the guidance of a spiritual advisor.

(...)The combination of a Persian painting style fused with the use of a more earth-toned palette and naturalistic rendering of figures and landscape, however, suggest that the present painting was produced in India under the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605 CE), a period marked by the synthesis of a diverse foreign and indigenous artistic styles. This combined aesthetic was a reflection of the ruler’s great tolerance for different religions; Akbar created the Din-i illahi (“Divine Faith”), which borrowed ideas from Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Jainism.
(The David Collection - Copenhagen)
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