Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



Mogul India and the European Trading Companies



The Indian Mogul Empire had existed since 1526, blossoming under Akbar's rule beginning in 1556. The splendor and luxury for which the Moguls are famed developed under his successors. After the death of Aurangzeb, the last important Mogul ruler, the empire declined both politically and culturally, while the European trading companies that had established themselves on the coasts of India since 1500 increasingly influenced political affairs. The Portuguese, initially the most powerful European state in India, were later pushed aside by the Dutch and British. Eventually, the British politically and economically dominated the subcontinent.


The First Moguls to Akbar the Great

Babur, founder of the Mogul Empire, established his authority over wide areas of India, which were, however, lost again under Humayun. It was not until Akbar the Great that the empire was finally consolidated.


By 1526 3 Babur had conquered the north and middle of India, founding the 1 Mogul Empire, which in the 16th and 17th centuries would reach almost unbelievable standards of splendor together with immeasurable wealth.

The name of Babur's dynasty, the Moguls (Mongols), reflects his Central Asian heritage: He was directly related to Tamerlane on his father's side and Genghis Khan on his mother's. In 1497 Babur became the ruler of Samarkand. He went on to conquer Kabul in 1504 and then pushed steadily southward into India from Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass, taking Lahore in 1524. After his victory over the last Lodi ruler at Panipat in 1526, Babur controlled the majority of India and made Agra his capital. Just how unstable his empire was became evident under his son, Humayun, who was driven out of India and into Persia by the brilliant commander Shir Shah Khan, who took Agra, Delhi and Lahore, in 1540. Shir Shah established his own dynasty, consolidating and giving firm institutions to the Mogul empire, but his kingdom collapsed after his murderin 1545 and had disappeared by 1555. Humayun returned from Persian exile but had a fatal accident shortly afterward.

1 A Mogul ruler in the region of Agra,
Indian miniature, ca. 1650

3 Babur, the founder of the Mogul
dynasty in India, miniature, 17th century

A scene from the Baburnama

His son 2 Akbar the Great ascended the throne at the age of 13 in 1556.

He shaped the Mogul Empire and guided the Indian-Islamic culture to a new golden age. A capable general as well as politician, he extended the empire in all directions and controlled the area from Kabul and Kashmir in the west to Bengal in the east. Northern Deccan to the south, including the Rajput states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, were also parts of his empire. Akbar erected the royal city of 4, 5 Fatehpur Sikri as his new capital. He created a new class of nobility loyal to him from the military aristocracy of various tribes, implemented a modern government, and supported the economy. At the same time, he intensified trade with the European trading companies. Akbar allowed free expression and discussion of all religions—even Christianity and Judaism—at his court and organized colloquia and debates.

2 Akbar crosses the Ganges,
Indian miniature, ca. 1600

5 The residence Fatehpur Sikri,
illustration from the Akbar-name, ca. 1590


4 The private audience hall of the emperor in Fatehpur Sikri

Akbar hunting with cheetahs, c. 1602

The court of Akbar, illustration from Akbarnama

see also collection:


Court Painting




Emperor Babur From a Mogul Miniature Painting

Mughal emperor
also spelled Bābar or Bāber, original name Ẓahīr al-Dīn Muḥammad
(Arabic: “Tiger”)
born Feb. 15, 1483, principality of Fergana [now in Uzbekistan]
died Dec. 26, 1530, Agra [India]

emperor (1526–30) and founder of the Mughal dynasty of India. A descendant of the Mongol conqueror Chinggis (Genghis) Khan and also of the Turkic conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), Bābur was a military adventurer, a soldier of distinction, and a poet and diarist of genius, as well as a statesman.

Early years
Bābur came from the Barlas tribe of Mongol origin, but isolated members of the tribe considered themselves Turks in language and customs through long residence in Turkish regions. Hence, Bābur, though called a Mughal, drew most of his support from Turks, and the empire he founded was Turkish in character. His family had become members of the Chagatai clan, by which name they are known. He was fifth in male succession from Timur and 13th through the female line from Chinggis Khan. Bābur’s father, ʿUmar Shaykh Mīrzā, ruled the small principality of Fergana to the north of the Hindu Kush mountain range. Because there was no fixed law of succession among the Turks, every prince of the Timurids—the dynasty founded by Timur—considered it his right to rule the whole of Timur’s dominions. These territories were vast, and, hence, the princes’ claims led to unending wars. The Timurid princes, moreover, considered themselves kings by profession, their business being to rule others without observing too precisely whether any particular region had actually formed a part of Timur’s empire. Bābur’s father, true to this tradition, spent his life trying to recover Timur’s old capital of Samarkand, and Bābur followed in his footsteps. The qualities needed to succeed in this dynastic warfare were the abilities to inspire loyalty and devotion, to manage the turbulent factions often caused by family feuds, and to draw revenue from the trading and agricultural classes. Bābur eventually mastered them all, but he was also a commander of genius.

For 10 years (1494–1504) Bābur sought to recover Samarkand and twice occupied it briefly (in 1497 and 1501). But in Muḥammad Shaybānī Khan, a descendant of Chinggis Khan and ruler of the Uzbeks beyond the Jaxartes River (ancient name for the Syr Darya), he had an opponent more powerful than even his closest relatives. In 1501 Bābur was decisively defeated at Sar-e Pol and within three years had lost both Samarkand and his principality of Fergana. There was always hope at that time, however, for a prince with engaging qualities and strong leadership abilities. In 1504 Bābur seized Kabul with his personal followers, maintaining himself there against all rebellions and intrigues. His last unsuccessful attempt on Samarkand (1511–12) induced him to give up a futile quest and to concentrate on expansion elsewhere. In 1522, when he was already turning his attention to Sindh (Pakistan) and India, he finally secured Kandahār, a strategic site on the road to Sindh.

When Bābur made his first raid into India in 1519, the Punjab was part of the dominions of Sultan Ibrāhīm Lodī of Delhi, but the governor, Dawlat Khan Lodī, resented Ibrāhīm’s attempts to diminish his authority. By 1524 Bābur had invaded the Punjab three more times but was unable to master the tangled course of Punjab and Delhi politics sufficiently enough to achieve a firm foothold. Yet it was clear that the Delhi sultanate was involved in contentious quarreling and ripe for overthrow. After mounting a full-scale attack there, Bābur was recalled by an Uzbek attack on his Kabul kingdom, but a joint request for help from ʿĀlam Khan, Ibrāhīm’s uncle, and Dawlat Khan encouraged Bābur to attempt his fifth, and first successful, raid.

Major successes » Victories in India
Setting out in November 1525, Bābur met Ibrāhīm at Panipat, 50 miles (80 km) north of Delhi, on April 21, 1526. Bābur’s army was estimated at no more than 12,000, but they were seasoned followers, adept at cavalry tactics, and were aided by new artillery acquired from the Ottoman Turks. Ibrāhīm’s army was said to number 100,000 with 100 elephants, but its tactics were antiquated and it was dissentious. Bābur won the battle by coolness under fire, his use of artillery, and effective Turkish wheeling tactics on a divided, dispirited enemy. Ibrāhīm was killed in battle. With his usual speed, Bābur occupied Delhi three days later and reached Agra on May 4. His first action there was to lay out a garden, now known as the Ram Bagh, by the Yamuna (Jumna) River.

This brilliant success must have seemed at the time to be of little difference from one of his former forays on Samarkand. His small force, burdened by the oppressive weather and located 800 miles (1,300 km) from their base at Kabul, was surrounded by powerful foes. All down the Ganges (Ganga) River valley were militant Afghan chiefs, in disarray but with a formidable military potential. To the south were the kingdoms of Malwa and Gujarat, both with extensive resources, while in Rajasthan Rana Sanga of Mewar (Udaipur) was head of a powerful confederacy threatening the whole Muslim position in northern India. Bābur’s first problem was that his own followers, suffering from the heat and disheartened by the hostile surroundings, wished to return home as Timur had done. By employing threats, reproaches, promises, and appeals, vividly described in his memoirs, Bābur diverted them. He then dealt with Rana Sanga, who, when he found that Bābur was not retiring as his Turkish ancestor had done, advanced with an estimated 100,000 horses and 500 elephants. With most of the neighbouring strongholds still held by his foes, Bābur was virtually surrounded. He sought divine favour by abjuring liquor, breaking the wine vessels and pouring the wine down a well. His followers responded both to this act and his stirring exhortations and stood their ground at Khanua, 37 miles (60 km) west of Agra, on March 16, 1527. Bābur used his customary tactics—a barrier of wagons for his centre, with gaps for the artillery and for cavalry sallies, and wheeling cavalry charges on the wings. The artillery stampeded the elephants, and the flank charges bewildered the Rajputs (ruling warrior caste), who, after 10 hours, broke, never to rally under a single leader again.

Bābur now had to deal with the defiant Afghans to the east, who had captured Lucknow while he was facing Rana Sanga. Other Afghans had rallied to Sultan Ibrāhīm’s brother Maḥmūd Lodī, who had occupied Bihar. There were also Rajput chiefs still defying him, principally the ruler of Chanderi. After capturing that fortress in January 1528, Bābur turned to the east. Crossing the Ganges, he drove the Afghan captor of Lucknow into Bengal. He then turned on Maḥmūd Lodī, whose army was scattered in Bābur’s third great victory, that of the Ghaghara, where that river joins the Ganges, on May 6, 1529. Artillery was again decisive, helped by the skillful handling of boats.

Major successes » Establishment of the Mughal Empire
Bābur’s dominions were now secure from Kandahār to the borders of Bengal, with a southern limit marked by the Rajput desert and the forts of Ranthambhor, Gwalior, and Chanderi. Within this great area, however, there was no settled administration, only a congeries of quarreling chiefs. An empire had been gained but still had to be pacified and organized. It was thus a precarious heritage that Bābur passed on to his son Humāyūn.

In 1530, when Humāyūn became deathly ill, Bābur is said to have offered his life to God in exchange for Humāyūn’s, walking seven times around the bed to complete the vow. Humāyūn recovered and Bābur’s health declined, and Bābur died the same year.

Bābur is rightly considered the founder of the Mughal Empire, even though the work of consolidating the empire was performed by his grandson Akbar. Bābur, moreover, provided the magnetic leadership that inspired the next two generations.

Bābur was a military adventurer of genius and an empire builder of good fortune, with an engaging personality. He was also a gifted Turki poet, which would have won him distinction apart from his political career, as well as a lover of nature who constructed gardens wherever he went and complemented beautiful spots by holding convivial parties. Finally, his prose memoirs, the Bābur-nāmeh, have become a renowned autobiography. They were translated from Turki into Persian in Akbar’s reign (1589) and were translated into English, Memoirs of Bābur, in two volumes in 1921–22. They portray a ruler unusually magnanimous for his age, cultured, and witty, with an adventurous spirit and an acute eye for natural beauty.

T.G. Percival Spear

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Empire at the Height of Its Splendor

Akbar's successors Jahangir and Shah Jahan were politically weak but are notable as great patrons of the arts and architecture. Their love of extravagance brought the state into difficulties.


A tolerant and far-sighted ruler, Akbar attempted to resolve the smoldering differences between Muslims and Hindus in his empire by establishing a new religion with strong characteristics of a ruler cult. Din-i-Uahi ("Divine Faith") was a mixture of Islam. Hinduism, and other religions, but it failed due to the massive resistance of the Islamic court orthodoxy.

Akbar's grand buildings — court studios in which magnificently illustrated books, 8 carpets, and jewelry were created—served both political and symbolic functions.

6 Akbar left his successors an internally stable empire, but before long the first signs of political weakness emerged.

8 Indian carpet from Madras

6 The mausoleum of Akbar in Sikandra

Akbar's son 10 Jahangir, who succeeded him in 1605, was addicted to opium, neglected affairs of state, and came under the influence of rival court cliques.

10 Jahangir preferring a sufi sheikh to kings, ca. 1620; Nur Jahan (Nur Jahan was the twentieth and favourite wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir)

The grandeur of the arts and 11 immense court administration that developed under his reign fascinated foreign envoys.

11 Great Mogul And His Court Returning From The Great Mosque At Delhi India, a painting by Edwin Lord Weeks.

Great Britain in particular had been trying to establish diplomatic and economic relations since 1609 and was granted numerous trade privileges, jahangir's reign was weakened by rebellions in his own family and in Deccan beginning in 1620.

During the reign of his son 7, 9 Shah Jahan, the splendor and luxury of the court reached its zenith.

7 Shah Jahan
9 Shah Jahan's favorite wife Mumtaz-i-Mahal

He collected tens of thousands of jewels, exported the products of the Indian painting schools to the world, and commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal near Agra.

Shah Jahan was not only an enthusiastic builder but also a distrustful personality who took ruthless measures against his adversaries, suspected as well Indian carpet from Madras as real. As a strict Muslim, he attacked the Portuguese colony in India and left Christian captives who refused conversion to Islam to die in prison. The "grand mogul" retreated to his harem palaces, isolated from the outside world, and left the government of his empire increasingly to his ministers and eunuchs. The maintenance of the court began to cost more than taxes brought in. In June 1658 Shah Jahan was deposed by his sons.



Taj Mahal

Between 1632 and 1648, Shah Jahan had the Taj Mahal constructed out of white marble by 20,000 workers as a mausoleum for his favorite wife Mumtaz-i-Mahal ("Pearl of the palace"), who died in childbirth in 3631.

A planned parallel mausoleum for Shah Jahan himself, to be built out of black marble, was never constructed.

The Taj Mahal, whose interior is equally magnificently constructed and in which Shah jahan was also laid to rest, is often called the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

The Taj Mahal in Agra. The central building with its 22 cupolas and minarets (ca. 131 ft high),
made of marble and red sandstone that must be continually renovated due to its porosity.




Aurangzeb and the Decline of the Moguls in India

During Aurangzeb's reign, the empire gained political strength once more, but his religious conservatism and intolerance undermined the stability of society. His successors became mere decadent shadow rulers.


The conflict that had been building among the four sons of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz-i-Mahal since 1644 flared up immediately after their father was deposed.

At first it seemed that the eldest, Prince 1 Dara Shukoh, a supporter of the arts and of dialogue between religions, would prevail.

However, the third son 2 Aurangzeb, allied with Islamic orthodoxy against his brother and ascended the Mogul throne in June 1658 under the name of Alamgir ("world conqueror").

1 The great Mogul Aurangzeb

2 Dara Shukoh

3 The conquest of Kandahar by Aurangzeb

In 1659 he defeated Dara Shukoh and had him executed. Aurangzeb was a strictly orthodox Muslim, popular for his application of Sharia law.

A talented military commander, he doubled the empire's territory, and the Mogul Empire reached its greatest expanse when he seized Deccan, 3 Kandahar, and Kabul.

In 1687, he conquered the Kingdom of Golkonda, the most significant state on the Indian subcontinent.

Domestically, Aurangzeb brutally suppressed all "unorthodox" movements with the help of secret police. His ruthless drive for the conversion of the Hindus and Sikhs—including the execution of the Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675—sowed the seeds for the political decline of the Mogul Empire.

Aurangzeb had Hindu temples systematically razed to the ground and erected 4, 5 mosques in their place.

4 Mosque of Gyanvapi, built by Aurangzeb, in Benares on the Ganges, watercolor by R. Smith, 1833
5 The mosque of Gyanvapi with neighboring ghats in Benares, steel engraving, ca. 1850

In 1679 he reintroduced the poll tax for non-Muslims, which had been abolished under Akbar. When Aurangzeb, the last powerful Mogul, died in March 1707, many parts of the empire were in open revolt.

Aurangzeb's son, Bahadur Shah I, was able to make favorable contracts again with the princes of Bengal and the English trading companies, reform the tax system, and repeal the harsh religious policies of his father. However, after his death in 1712, the Mogul dynasty sank into chaos and violent family feuds. In the year 1719 alone, four Moguls successively ascended the throne. In 1739 Nadir Shah of Persia invaded India and plundered the treasures of the palaces. The succeeding Moguls ruled only nominally and never left their palaces, where the British eventually found them vegetating under indescribable conditions. After a crushed rebellion which he led in 1857-58, the last "Mogul," Bahadur Shah II, was deposed by the British, who then took control of the country.



British Ambassador Sir William Norris, 1701,
Describing his Encounter with Emperor Aurangzeb

"He was completely white, the clothing, the turban, and the beard and was carried by a crowd of humans in open gentleness. But he himself saw no one, as his eyes were directed towards a book in his hands, which he read during the entire way, not letting himself be distracted by any other object."




From European Trading Companies to British Domination

The Portuguese controlled European trade with India in the 16th century, but after 1600 they were pushed aside by the Dutch, British, and French. The British eventually gained political control throughout the region as well.


During the rise and fall of the Mogul Empire, the 12 European trading companies were establishing themselves on the Indian coasts.

Following Vasco da Gama's discovery of a sea route to India in 1497-1498, the Portuguese—having defeated the combined fleets of Egypt and Gujarat at Diu in 1509—reached 7 Goa in 1510.

From there they proceeded to conquer the west coast of India in 1531-1558 and establish a 10 trade monopoly of goods from India and Indonesia in Europe.


12 Europeans smoking a water pipe, Indian miniature, ca. 1760

7 The St. Alex Church in Calangute,
Goa, built in 1515

10 European merchant ships, presumably
Portuguese, at the Indian coast,
Indian miniature, late 16th century

In the 17th century, the Dutch and English entered into competition with the Portuguese, after Queen Elizabeth granted the British 8 East India Company a monopoly over British trade with India in 1600.

The British, who had already established a trading post in Agra in 1608, defeated the Portuguese in a naval engagement near Surat in 1612 and went on to set up outposts on both the east and west coasts of India.

In 1658, Chennai (Madras) became the headquarters of the 11 East India Company, which had been diplomatically represented at the court of the Moguls since 1603.

In 1668, the British also took Mumbai (Bombay) from the Portuguese. Meanwhile, the Dutch East India Company was able to establish itself in Surat in 1618 and Bengal in 1627 and drove the Portuguese out of Ceylon in 1638.

8 A frigate of the kind used by the
East India Company off of the Indian Coast,
from two perspectives,
painting by Thomas Whitcombe

11 Two British officers of the East India Company
are entertained with music and dance

That led to the bitter and bloody 13 struggle between the British and the Dutch, which the British eventually won.

In 1664, the French under Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert also entered the competition for Indian trade. The French Compagnie des Indes Orientales seized bases on the west and east coasts in 1668 and won, in 1739, the southern portion of the Kingdom of Hyderabad. Joseph Francois Dupleix, governor-general of the company from 1742 to 1754, was able to spread French influence across all of the southern Indian principalities. There were several clashes between the French and British in southern India between 1746 and 1763, which the British eventually won under the leadership of Robert Clive. In 1765 Lord Clive became governor of East India, and the East India Company was given Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa (Kalinga), making British dominance of the subcontinent a fact.

9 Warren Hastings, the first governor-general of Bengal from 1772 to 1785, put a complete end to French influence there and paved the way for British political domination of India.

In 1784, the East India Company was placed under the control of the British government, which instituted British universities in India and anglicized Indian society to a farreaching extent. After the last Mogul had been deposed, India was governed by a British viceroy, or Raj, from 1858 until Indian independence in 1947.

13 British warships at an island in Dutch East India,
painting by Dominic Serres the Elder

9 Warren Hastings



Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy