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Except some insignificant aspects, such as some change in the background tint and exclusion of border designs, in every other thing, even the inscription, this portrayal of the animal is a hair-to-hair reproduction of an earlier Mughal masterpiece of 1621, now in Victoria and Albert Museum, London, by the timeless painter Ustad Mansur, the world has not produced a second one to equal him in nature painting, in painting flora and fauna, birds and animals – their likenesses, spirit and mood. Not merely that Ustad Mansur had worked at the Mughal court atelier under Akbar and Jahangir and was among the best masters of the Mughal court, or that Jahangir had honoured him with the title ‘Nadir u’l Asri’ – unequalled of the Age, he had also autographed this zebra portrait putting his remark on one arm of its framing space as : ‘Astari ki Rumian ba hamrahi-e Mir Ja’far awurda budand. San 1030 Hijri. Shabih-i in ra Nadir u’l Asri Ustad Mansur kashidah. San 16,’ that is, (mule) ‘which the Turks who came in company with Mir Ja’far had brought from Abyssinia. Year 1030 of the Hijra (A. D. 1621). Painted by Nadir u’l Asri Ustad Mansur. 16th regnal year.’
Thus, even if a reproduction of an earlier work, having reproduced each stroke of the masterly brush in its exactness, with the same precision, firmness of lines, accuracy of details and form, and with an ability to let his single isolated figure dominate the entire composition, the artist of this contemporary piece has rotated back the time’s scale and has made the year 1621 descend on his canvas. Except a very critical eye of great expertise, or what in all fairness the artist has himself provided for distinguishing his work from Ustad Mansur’s, the zebra of his canvas and that of Ustad Mansur’s are not twins but one and the same – the same that ‘Turks who came in company with Mir Ja’far had brought’ with them.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.