Mansur (Ustad Mansur)

Mughal painter under the reign of Jahangir, lived early 17th century.

Mansur was the leading nature painter at the court of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. The emperor took a passionate interest in the natural world and established a compendium of natural history with Mansur's help.

Mansur was extraordinarily talented for scientific documentation. His detailed careful depictions of plants and animals avoided all personal expression and are extremely valuable for their scientific accuracy as well as their artistic perfection. Some of his studies are unsurpassed today.

Mansur became known as Ustad Mansur (Master Mansur); the emperor bestowed the title Nadir-ul-'Asr ("Miracle of the Age") on him.

Mansur accompanied Jahangir on some of his travels and was then in charge of the documentation of plants and animals. Jahangir's memoirs state that during a trip into the Kashmir Valley Mansur painted over 100 flowers. Many of Mansur's paintings were left unsigned, and only one of his flower paintings can be clearly attributed to him today.

His paintings of birds and animals are also often unsigned, but his skill is always unmistakable, and Jahangir's praise often helps to identify the artist.

Mansur was often called to paint foreign birds, such as the first turkey to enter the empire, and animals brought as presents to the emperor, but his work includes birds from the imperial gardens as well.

Probably of greatest value for modern science is Mansur's painting of a dodo, a flightless bird of Mauritius. The dodo was hunted by European explorers and became extinct in 1681. A drawing of the dodo by the artist Ronald Savery, made in Amsterdam between 1626 and 1628, is rather amateurish; Mansur's painting is the only accurate depiction of the bird drawn from a living specimen. It was rediscovered in the collection of the Institute of Oriental studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and created a sensation at the XII International Ornithological Congress at Helsinki in 1958.

The only known signed flower painting by Ustad Mansur, signed "Jahangirshahi, the work of the slave of the Presence-Chamber, Mansur Naqqash; c. 1610."

An example of Mansur'sbird paintings, unsigned but attributed to the artist; c. 1610.

A painting of Mansur showing a dodo, unsigned but attributed to the artist; c. 1610. Hermitage, St. Petersburg.