When this painting of a woodpecker was first published, in The British Museum exhibition catalogue of 1976 Paintings from the Muslim Courts of India, the entry, written by Dr. Ellen Smart linked it to illustrations of birds and animals in the early copies of the Baburnama. Subsequently this link has been cemented with an attribution to the great Mughal master Mansur, who is particularly known for his paintings of birds and animals, and who painted several of the early Baburnama illustrations of natural history.
Mansur began his career in the late 1580s, when his early style of natural history painting appears in the Baburnama, c.1589. He rose to become the most skilled and illustrious of the Indian painters of fauna and flora in the seventeenth century. He was fortunate that his royal patrons were very interested in natural history, following in the footsteps of Babur and Humayun, and his natural prowess in this direction allowed a flowering of his career and a chance to fulfil his great talent. Emperor Jahangir (ruled 1605-27) mentioned him four times in his Tuzuk-i Jahangiri and awarded him the title of Nadir al-’Asr ('Wonder of the Age'). He was also an exceptional illuminator, contributing illuminated pages and borders to several royal manuscripts and albums.
The type of bird represented here has for a long time been slightly mis-identified. It is in fact a Black-Rumped Flameback Woodpecker (Dinopium benghalense), sometimes known as a Lesser Golden-Backed Woodpecker. It is a widespread resident of the Indian subcontinent, inhabiting open forests and often breeding in old tamarisk and acacia trees.