Mika Natif

The Role of Micro-architecture and Topography in Early Mughal Painting

Since the 1580s, elaborate urban architecture and landscape scenes appeared in the background of Mughal paintings. Such representations consisted of India’s flora and fauna, genre scenes of local men and women working the land, and the depiction of cities. These miniature urban vignettes became so common that they are visible in numerous illustrations produced at the Mughal workshops under Emperor Akbar (r.1556-1605). Several scholars described these urban landscapes as a mélange of European and Mughal structures, and argued that Mughal artists borrowed this microarchitecture tradition from similar representations in the Christian Book of Hours. However, it appears that these mini-urban topographies portray settings that are linked to the Mughal world and not to Europe. The transformation/reconfiguration of the urban motifs into an Indian idiom altered their original Christian context and therefore reflects the Mughals’ sense of pride and ownership toward Hindustan, as well as their territorial identity.

Mika Natif

The George Washington University, AKPIA@MIT Post-Doctoral Fellow

Dr. Mika Natif (Ph.D., New York University – Institute of Fine Arts, 2006) is an art historian focusing on the intercultural exchanges and global connections that Muslim societies forged with the European sphere in the pre-Modern era. Her primary field of research is Islamic painting, with special interest in Mughal India, Central Asia and Iran. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Art History at The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Previously, Mika had held teaching positions at Princeton University and at the College of the Holy Cross (MA), and curatorial positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and most recently at the Harvard Art Museums (as Assistant Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art). She has conducted research in archives, galleries and museums all over Europe, as well as Turkey, Israel, and India. Her publications include articles in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters on Islamic book arts, visual culture, idol anxiety, and objects of pilgrimage. Her current book manuscript, Mughal Occidentalism: Artistic Encounters Between Europe and Asia at the Courts of India, explores the transglobal styles and visual expressions that Mughal artists and patrons developed following the meeting of European art and Perso-Indian painting. She is also the co-editor and co-author of Eros and Sexuality in Islamic Art (Ashgate, September 2013).