This paper examines the impact of the introduction of architectural representation into the visual discourse of official Mughal illustrated histories. In 1815, the Mughal emperor Akbar II (r. 1806-1837) gifted a multi-volume, illustrated copy of the Padshahnama to the British magistrate at Agra, J.T. Robertdean. Prior versions of the manuscript, originally written in the seventeenth century for the emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1627-1658), had included portraits, images at court, and battle scenes. The 1815 Padshahnama added to these visual themes paintings of Mughal monuments from Delhi and Agra, asserting the iconic status of these buildings.

  • How did contemporary architectural representation, and the British demand for images of "traditional" and "timeless" Indian architecture shape or reshape the ways Mughal patrons and artists presented their own cultural history?
  • To what extent do Mughal histories from the period provide context for these images and problematize our focus on the role of innovation as evidence of cultural productivity and dynamism?

In situating the illustrations of monuments in the larger context of Mughal historical writing, the paper takes a long view of the concept of monuments, evaluating the role played by this manuscript in a longer nineteenth-century discourse on architectural history exemplified by later works such as Asar al-Sanadid (Vestiges of the Past, 1847). The paper maintains that the Padshahnama paintings of the early nineteenth century, with their distinctive use of architectural monuments, constituted a culturally potent attempt to bolster early nineteenth-century Mughal imperial identity that complemented the colonial discourse of monuments and imperial succession.