Basawan

Basawan (flourished 1580-1600), or Basavan, was an Indian miniature painter in the Mughal style. He was known by his contemporaries as a skilled colorist and keen observer of human nature, and for his use of portraiture in the illustrations of Akbarnama, Mughal Emperor, Akbar’s official Biography, which is seen as an innovation in Indian art.

Little is known about his life, although his name suggests that he may have been part of the Ahir (cow-herding caste) in what is now Uttar Pradesh. He became a court painter for Akbar the Great, where he came under the influence of Abd al-Samad. His son Manohar Das succeeded him as court painter.

Over 100 paintings are attributed to Basawan. His earliest mention is found in an illustrated version of tutinama c. 1556-61. Most of them are illustrations for manuscripts. In many of them, Basawan was the designer, in collaboration with a second artist who supplied the color. Among the works that can definitely be attributed to Basawan are illustrations for the Razmnama, the Akbar-nama, the Darab-nama, the Baharistan of Jami, and the Timur-nama.

Basawan was one of the first Indian artists to be interested in western techniques, inspired by the European paintings brought to Akbar’s court by Jesuit missionaries. It can be seen in his use of strong contrasts of light and shade, although Western influence is never predominant in his work. Basawan was also noted for his exploration of space, the delineation of his backgrounds, the strength of his colors, and his strong, moving characterizations of his subjects. Abu al-Fadl ‘Allami, historiographer for Akbar the Great, wrote about Basawan: “In designing and portrait painting and colouring and painting illusionistically…he became unrivalled in the world.