Cut, Copy, Paste, Repeat: Imitability and the Mughal Album

Thu, November 16 | 4:00pm
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Between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, the royal and colonial elites of South Asia patronized and collected an inordinate number of albums. The album, which usually, though not always, took the form of a codex, functioned as a highly staged repository of works on paper, from standalone portraits and nature studies, narrative illustrations, and Persian and Chagatai calligraphic specimens to European prints. Although some of these materials were made expressly for their album context, others were culled and excised from pre-existing collections, illustrated manuscripts, and older albums. Reuse and recycling, in other words, was commonplace, as was the copying of older, canonical works. This talk will examine the role that these various strategies played in mobilizing Mughal (and related) albums and their contents across South Asia and, indeed, across the globe, to the extent that at least one album fell into the hands of the Dutch artist-entrepreneur Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn a mere decade or so after it had been assembled. Integral to this discussion is the place of artistic imitation, which is here understood as an activating, as opposed to derivative, process.
Yael Rice is an Assistant Professor of the History of Art and Asian Languages and Civilizations at Amherst College.
Detail of a Mughal album painting of the 1630s mounted around 1762 on a wood panel in the Millionenzimmer in Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna (SKB002606)