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Medieval art and objects at the Natioanl Gallery of Canada

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

Eastern Examples for Ancient Civilizations Curriculum

-- 09 July 2016 | T. Russo

Asian painting and sculptures collection encompasses some 400 works, principally from the Indian subcontinent, ranging from the 2nd through to the 19th century. The pieces from the 2nd to the 14th centuries provide examples of daily life in the East during the Middle Ages.

India, Imperial Mughal, detail of Folio from a “Baburnama” Manuscript: Emperor Babur Supervising the Creation of a Garden (detail), c. 1590–1598, opaque watercolour on paper with gold and coloured ruled borders, folio: 26.5 × 15.9 cm irregular; image: 24.8 × 13.3 cm. Gift of Max Tanenbaum, Toronto, 1979. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

The Baburnuma is the memoir of Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur (866 AH/AD 1483-937 AH/AD 1530) who conquered northern India and established the Mughal Empire or the Timurid-Mughal empire. He wrote his memoir in Chaghatay, Turkey (which he called Turkic). His autobiographical story was translated into Persian and illustrated by his Mughal successors. Copies of the text have been executed from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries. The painting from the memoir represents the Mughal court style under Mughal Emperor Akbar. Other copies of this memoir are located at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland and in the State Museum of Eastern Cultures, Moscow.

The Mughal ruler Babur was a descendant of Genghis Khan and in addition to conquering much of northern India, he has also been evaluated as a great poet and memoirist. The curator of the National Gallery of Art explains that the folio above in the collection depicts Babur overseeing the planting of a garden while standing under a luxurious canopy. As a ruler he conceived the first Mughal-style gardens which the text states were to be "laid out with order and symmetry, with suitable borders and parterres in every corner, and in every border rose and narcissus in perfect arrangement." The illuminated folio, thus, demonstrates the activity of the court under Babur’s rule.

How to cite blog:

Russo, Teresa, "Medieval art and objects at the National Gallery of Canada: Eastern Examples for Ancient Civilizations Curriculum." Teaching the Middle Ages (TMA), July 9, 2016; revised 2022,

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