A painter for the Mughal court, Mansur worked during the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir. Well-known for his precise studies and illustrations of flora and fauna, Mansur was awarded the title of Nadir-al-Asr (the wonder of the age) for his work by Jahangir.
Before rising to prominence as an established painter in his own right, Mansur worked under senior masters, most notably Basawan, Kanha and Miskin. Mansur was also known for his gold illuminated and calligraphed frontispieces, or sarlaw, and owner-title pages, or shamsa. At Akbar’s court, he worked on the first editions of the Akbarnama (Book of Akbar, 1589–90), Baburnama (Book of Babur, 1589) and the Chingiznama (Book of Chingiz, c.1590) and was most likely bestowed the title of “Ustad” or Master, at some point during this period. In some cases, his name is also suffixed with Naqqash, which could indicate that he came from a family of artists.
The Coronation of Jahangir (c.1605) was one of his earliest works. During Jahangir’s reign, Mansur devoted his practice to painting the likeness of a variety of flora and fauna and started painting individual paintings rather than contributing to illustrated manuscripts, which were more popular during Akbar’s reign. Most famous amongst these are his painting of a dodo (1612), based on a living bird brought to Jahangir from Goa; a Barbary falcon (1619), another gift to the Emperor, from Shah Abbas of Persia; and a Siberian crane (1625), which is also considered to be one of the first visual records of the species. Apart from fauna, Mansur also recorded flowers, for example during his visit to Kashmir with Jahangir he is known to have created over a hundred paintings of flowers. There are also detailed records of Mansur and his paintings in Jahangir’s memoirs, Tuzk-e-Jahangiri.
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