Master of Arts (M.A.)
Degree Granting Department
Esra Akın-Kıvanç, Ph.D.
Elisabeth A. Fraser, Ph.D.
Pamela Brekka, Ph.D.
Abu'l Hasan, Islamic painting, Jahangir, Mughal portraiture
This thesis is a study of a seventeenth-century watercolor portrait of the Mughal EmpressNur Jahan (r. 1611-1627). Titled Nur Jahan Holding a Musket and created by court painter Abu’l Hasan, the painting has not been the subject of a scholarly work before. In this unorthodox depiction of a female, Nur Jahan is shown sporting androgynous attire while actively loading a matchlock musket. Through visual and textual analysis, I read this portrait as a symbol of an empowered female and argue that once its meaning is decoded it can serve as a complex historical document that complicates Nur Jahan’s persona. Moving beyond romanticized legends about the empress that have been uncritically perpetuated in pre-modern and modern scholarship, I study Abu’l Hasan’s portrayal of the empress as a martial woman within the framework of the larger genre of Mughal female portraiture. Additionally, I consider Nur Jahan Holding a Musket in relation to portrayals of warrior women found in Indo-Persian history and Arabic literature, and demonstrate that the portrait of the empress is part of a silsila, a lineage of powerful women in Islamic cultures who staged their political and military might through performances of crossdressing. I argue that the performative act of cross-dressing allowed women to subvert the norms of their patriarchal society. By bringing this surprisingly overlooked portrait of Nur Jahan to the attention of art historians, my thesis seeks to rectify her previous misrepresentations while demonstrating the need to integrate visual evidence to the biographies of prominent figures who have been pushed to the peripheries of history.
Scholar Commons Citation
Finkbeiner, Angela N., "Empress Nur Jahan and Female Empowerment: A Critical Analysis of a Long-Forgotten Mughal Portrait" (2021). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.