Theses Doctoral

Reading Paintings, Visualizing Texts: Image, Imagination and Ethics in Sixteenth-Century Golconda

Agarwala, Seher

From the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries, a corpus of didactic Persian texts circulated across Central and South Asian courts, functioning as a ‘mirror for princes’ or didactic manuals of ethical comportment. Numerous such manuscripts were embellished with meticulously detailed and laboriously created paintings. But what was the role of manuscript illustrations in shaping ethical and moral transformation?

Though we now understand paintings through the frameworks of taxonomy and connoisseurship, how did illustrations make meaning to their intended audience, who read the text and were steeped in textual traditions? Contemporary sources are silent on the role of paintings in didactic texts, but, as my dissertation demonstrates, an in-depth evaluation of paintings and their accompanying text reveals how painted manuscripts engendered specific reading practices.

These reading practices involved listening, visualizing mental images, viewing paintings, anticipating, recollecting, confusion and wonder, exercising patience, and even stilling our minds – experiences that made the reader-viewer dwell on the manuscript’s contents for an extended period. Focusing on painted manuscripts commissioned and collected by the Qutb Shahis in sixteenth-century Golconda, this dissertation’s chapters explore how writers, scribes, painters, and illuminators deployed allegory, repetition, and narrative plot, to attract and sustain their intended audience's attention.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Dehejia, Vidya
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 12, 2023