This illustration to the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar) depicts the Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) on horseback, inspecting a wild elephant captured from a herd during a royal hunting expedition near Malwa in north central India. The elephant is shown tethered to a tree to start its training process, and two trained elephants can be seen in the foreground being led away. The manuscript describes in detail the process of training a wild elephant.
The Akbarnama was commissioned by Akbar as the official chronicle of his reign. It was written in Persian by his court historian and biographer, Abu’l Fazl, between 1590 and 1596, and the V&A’s partial copy of the manuscript is thought to have been illustrated between about 1592 and 1595. This is thought to be the earliest illustrated version of the text, and drew upon the expertise of some of the best royal artists of the time. Many of these are listed by Abu’l Fazl in the third volume of the text, the A’in-i Akbari, and some of these names appear in the V&A illustrations, written in red ink beneath the pictures, showing that this was a royal copy made for Akbar himself. After his death, the manuscript remained in the library of his son Jahangir (r.1605–1627), from whom it was inherited by Shah Jahan (r.1628–1658).
Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum,