Angels bring food to Ibrahim Adham at dawn
Hyderabad, circa 1750–1775
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Calligraphy panel on verso
Image: 10 x 7 in. (25.4 x 17.8 cm.)
Folio: 18 ⅜ x 14 in. (46.6 x 35.6 cm.)
Sotheby’s London, 14 February 1987, lot 16.
Private collection, Derbyshire, 1987-2010.
Worlds Beyond: Death and the Afterlife in Art.
Cartwright Hall, Bradford, December–February 1993.
Castle Museum, Nottingham, March–April 1994.
Walsall City Art Gallery, May–June 1994.
Sheltered by a rocky outcropping and the protective curve of a tree bough, a wandering dervish is depicted leaning against a fakir’s crutch in deep sleep. A small fire keeps him warm as he slumbers in only a dhoti and a patchwork dervish cloak which is draped over his shoulders—its patches rendered in painstaking detail, each bearing its own unique pattern. Two angels carrying covered food stand before him, sumptuously dressed in golden textiles and strings of pearls that complement the brilliant orange and turquoise of their wings. Two more emerge from a copse of trees on the other side of a small pond teeming with life—waterfowl peck at the water’s edge and swim together in pairs as white and orange fish navigate between the blooming lotus flowers. Another pond appears in the foreground, its zig-zagging edge lined with fanning sprays of grasses which frame the scene. The background, typical of the Deccan, reveals a rocky landscape with buildings perched on conical hills. Diminutive figures of dancing women and white cattle dot the landscape, illuminated by the rising sun.
The dervish is identified by a nasta’liq inscription which floats by his head in a small cloud-form: “Ibrahim Adham [God’s] mercy be upon him.” On the reverse is Persian prose text in nasta’liq describing the life of Ibrahim Adham, an eighth-century king of Balkh and prominent Sufi saint who, much like Gautma Buddha, realized that he could not find God whilst living the luxurious palace life. Renouncing his kingship, he became a wandering dervish and achieved a semi-mythical status. The subject of this painting, frequently depicted in 18th-century Mughal India, illustrates a story in which angels bring Ibrahim food in his sleep—their assistance suggesting divine recognition of the virtue of the ascetic lifestyle. See another depiction of the same scene at the Royal Collection Trust (acc. RCIN 1005069.ah). In both images, the angels are depicted with vibrantly colored wings and wearing gold brocades as well as headdresses associated with Mughal women of Asian descent.
Kühnel, E., “Mihr Tschand, ein unbekannter Mogulmaler,” in Berliner Museen, 43, 1922.
Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981.
Hurel, R., Miniatures et Peintures Indiennes, Paris, 2010.