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Bird’s eye view

An unknown painting is rediscovered in JP Losty’s Delhi 360°. A look at how an artist captured the Mughal capital a decade before the 1857 Uprising would destroy it.

art and culture Updated: Jan 23, 2012 20:02 IST

Delhi 360°: Mazhar Ali Khan’s View From The Lahore Gate
JP Losty, Lustre Press/Roli Books
Rs 1,295
Collector’s edition Rs 15,000

The story starts in 1846. Bahadur Shah Zafar is the Mughal emperor in Delhi — or the forted city of Shahjahanabad to be precise — and 11 years before the 1847 Uprising, is still unaware that he will be the last Mughal emperor of India. A Delhi painter, Mazhar Ali Khan, signs off an incredible painting on

November 25, 1846. It is a 360 degree panoramic view of Delhi from the ramparts of the imperial palace in Red Fort.

Khan had, unlike other court artists, chosen not to place the Mughal palace, the Qila-i Mubarak, as the central point of what would be a panorama comprising five large sheets of paper glued together to form one running 66.5 x 490.8 cm scroll. Instead, he chose a view that linked the Indian and the British ‘view’.

Which, along with the inscription marking his house in the painting, leads to the belief that Thomas Metcalfe, the intermediary between the East India Company’s government in Calcutta and Bahadur Shah Zafar, was the patron of Khan’s magnificent work that he titled, ‘Naqshah-i shahr-i shahjahanabad bar Lahori darwazah-i qil’ah-i mubarak kashidah shud’ (Panoramic view of Shahjahanabad drawn from Lahore Gate). The story of the painting restarts in 1981.

The British Library in London acquires a previously unknown painting. It is Khan’s Delhi panorama. JP Losty, former curator-in-charge of the extensive Indian visual collections in the British Library, tells us the story of the exquisitely detailed painting of 1846 Delhi, a city that was practically destroyed during the 1857 Uprising, in this book.

First Published: Nov 19, 2011 22:20 IST