Formal analysis of two portraits of Farukhsiyar by an unknown Mughal artist and Simon Schijnvoet, a Dutch printmaker

Work: Portrait of Farukhsiyar

Length: 1,000 words (4-5 pages)

Format: Double-spaced in 12-point font with page numbers. Use either Times New Roman or Garamond. Include a title page with your student number only. Please do not use paper clips or fold the edges of your paper. Use the Chicago Manual Style for citations, for bibliographic sources.


Visual Description


As art historians one of the key skills you will rely on is to look closely and carefully. This exercise is meant to do just that, i.e. to teach you how to look at a work of art and to be able to discuss it without resorting to historical sources. This process of close-looking is the first step in making meaning of a work of art. For this particular assignment you will be looking closely attwo portraits of Faruksiyar, one a miniature painting by unknown Mughal artistand the other a print by Simon Schijnvoet.


The painting is easily available on the museum website, and other online archives, allowing you to get a sense of scale, size, and form of the work in question. Oftentimes seeing the painting in a museum impacts how the viewer makes meaning of it, but for our purposes an online version of the painting should suffice. The print, however, is only available in the actual text, a scan of which exists online.


At this point, you have been briefly introduced to Mughal visual culture and the key themes surrounding our discussions of it. Also, return to “The Language of Art & Architecture” in our course textbook.Using only this knowledge parse out the formal qualities of these work. What allows you to make meaning of this painting and print based solely on what you see? This process is not quick! You will have to—though you are not required to—spend considerable amount of time looking at this painting. What do you see? Is the painting large or small? What about the print? What does the size of the painting do to your understanding of it? Based on its size do you think it accompanied a text? What about scale of the characters depicted? Question about scale and size are essential segues into larger questions about meaning.


They also bring to the fore questions of perspective. Is there a sense of depth in the painting? If not, why? How do the artist and printmaker depict perspective? How does architecture figure into this discussion? Are there any indications of architectural space? Does it take away from the skill of the artist or add to it? What about artistic skill? Do we see it at play here? Do you think the scale and size of the painting impact the skill of the artist?


Skill and dexterity are in many ways shaped by the materials available to the artist. What materials are the artists working with? Do those materials impact their work, and if they do, how do they impact the meaning of this painting? Why does one artist use watercolours and gold while the other a woodblock and ink? Does it alter the surface of the canvas? Where is the paint visible and why? What does it suggest about the artist’s choice and his intended meaning of the work?


The use of paint also indicates the use of color, line, light, and form. Do we see clear indicators of light and dark? Does this imply that the artist is working with shadows? If, yes, how can you tell? What does the use of color tell us? Do they use color to indicate space? In the same vein, how are lines being formed in the painting and print: horizontal, vertical, or diagonal? Are they indicative of something? If yes, what? These formal elements are the first step toward understanding what the artist is trying to convey.


Next, once you have a sense of the formal aspects that make up this work, what happens when you combine your research notes with your visual description? Do the watercoloursreflect the lines in the painting? Does the use of a deep red as a background indicate an attempt at perspective? What is being depicted? Who is being depicted? What are they doing and why? How does the painting tell us that this is indeed a Mughal emperor, or for that matter, the same person? Does the print depict the same person as the painting? If no, why not? Does the painter give us a clear sense of the subject? Does he have a particular style in which he works (you are, of course, free to peruse more examples to get a sense of artistic practice in this period).


Use these questions as a starting point for your analysis. You are not required to answer all of them. In fact, it would be ideal not to. Pick an aspect—of your choosing, which could be masculinity, materiality, mobility, and so on—that fascinates you about this painting and use that to anchor your discussion.


Visual Analysis


That being said there is a caveat. You are, after all, being graded on your ability to make a coherent argument about the work based SOLELY on its formal characteristics. Thus, this essay requires you to have an overlying argument that ties in with your reading of the painting. Use your notes—built on your reading or rather looking—of the painting. Remember looking and seeing are two different things. You must make this transition in your essay by helping the reader to see what you have observed.


Use the formal elements in the painting to make an argument. How do these elements support or reject your claims? Why do they do so? Here, I encourage you not to resort to external sources, but rather to trust your visual acuity. You are, of course, required to introduce the painting within its period of production, but do not let that take away from your observations.




Grading will be based on the following format:

  1. Thesis statement, i.e. a clearly articulated argument that runs through the course of the paper: 20 points
  2. Descriptive qualities, i.e. visual analysis (be precise): 40 points
  3. Organization, i.e. clear introduction, transition sentences, conclusion, and so on: 20 points
  4. Grammar, Spelling, & Punctuation: 10 points
  5. Formatting, i.e. font size, font type, page numbers, title, citations (both footnotes and bibliography): 10 points





You will be handing in the following items in class on 10/10/2018:


  1. Your 4-page double-spaced paper.
  2. A high-resolution image accompanying your paper.


Finally, as the Mughals said, safarkun, safarkun, safarkun!


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