Abu al-Hasan was the son of Aqa Reza of Herat in western Afghanistan, a city with an artistic tradition. Aqa Reza had taken up employment with Jahangir before the latter's accession to the throne of the Mughal empire.
Abu al-Hasan was initially trained by the emperor himself in his large studios and workshops but soon surpassed his father and his employer. Jahangir said of him that he had no equal and bestowed the title Nadir-uz-Saman ("Wonder of the Age") on him.
Abu al-Hasan's main task was the documentation of events at the imperial court, which resulted in many superb portraits. Not many of Abu al-Hasan's paintings survived, but those that identify him as the artist show that he also worked on a range of subjects including some everyday scenes.
The most famous painting associated with his name, Squirrels in a Plane Tree, is a masterful depiction of animal posture and movement that could only have been derived from direct observation. Since the painting depicts European squirrels unknown in India his work suggests that Jahangir's zoo may have held a few of these animals. Alternatively Abu al-Hasan may have accompanied Jahangir on one of his travels. The signature on the painting is confusing; Nadir al-Asr ("Miracle of the Age") is the title of Ustad Mansur, not of Abu al-Hasan, but the painting is definitely not Ustad Mansur's style. It is possible that both painters collaborated on this painting.
Portrait of Jahangir (detail) by Abu al-Hasan, 1617
Saʿdī presents a book of his poems, 1615, Walters Art Museum
Portrait of Jahangir, 1615-20, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Celebrations at the accession of Jahangir. Jahangirnama. St. Petersburg Album, c. 1615-18, Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences
- The Emperors' album: images of Mughal India, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Abu al-Hasan
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