Mir Sayyid Ali

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Portrait of a young writer by Mir Sayyid Ali, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1550

Mir Sayyid Ali (Tabriz, 1510–1572) was a Persian illustrator and painter of miniatures.


Born in Tabriz, Mir Sayyid Ali was the son of artist Mir Musavvir. Historian and chronicler Qazi Ahmed said that the son was more talented than his father, but the impact of Mir Musavvir did influence his work.

Early works[edit]

Miniature from Layla and Majnun (c. 1540)

Modern research suggests that Mir Sayyid Ali took part in the illustration of the famous Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp created in 1525–48 for Shah Tahmasp I (1514–76). Two miniatures in it are attributed to Sayyid Ali's. The next step was his involvement in the creation of the lavish illustrations for the manuscript of Khamsa of Nizami ("Five poems") created by the best artists of the Shah kitabhane in 1539–43 by order of Shah Tahmasp. Of the 14 miniatures his brush is credited with four, among them "Layla and Majnun", which bears the signature of the artist. The period around 1540, contains two remarkable works of the master: a picture of the elegant young man holding a letter disclosed, and a diptych (double frontispiece) for the Khamsa of Nizami with "nomad camp of nomads" on one sheet and "Evening Life Palace" on the other.

Removal from court[edit]

In the 1540s, the Shah Tahmasp became increasingly orthodox and grew to reject artistic representations of living creatures. He lost interest in the former book miniature, and eventually issued an edict banning secular images throughout the Persian Empire. Artists of his court, including Mir Sayyid Ali, dispersed in all directions. Most took refuge at the court of Shah Tahmasp's nephew, Sultan Ibrahim Mirza.

Humayun service[edit]

Meanwhile, the Mughal emperor Humayun after unsuccessful battles with Sher Shah Suri, lost his throne, and in 1543 arrived in Persia, where Shah Tahmasp gave him a warm welcome and the highest protection. Followed by countless feasts on which Tahmasp persuaded Sunni Humayun to go to the Shiite faith. While Humayun was staying in Tabriz, he became acquainted with the artists, was fascinated by their works, and two of them are invited to the service to him, wanting to create a library-like master of Tabriz. These artists were Abd al-Samad and Mir Musavvir. However, for some reason instead of Mir Musavvir, the service went to his son Mir Sayyid Ali.

Humayun did not immediately regain his possessions in the Indian subcontinent. While this struggle took place, it was in a Kabul court. Mir Sayyid Ali arrived there in 1549, lived and worked there for as long as the summer of 1555 Humayun's army defeated in a battle the troops of Sikandar Shah. The Delhi gate was open, and his father Humayun regained the throne. The period of the artist's life in Kabul today carries very few works, among them "Portrait of a young writer". Mir Sayyid Ali is considered a master of the genre of portraiture, but Persian portraits were to a large extent conditioned and idealized character than were significantly different from the Mughal portrait, which was much more naturalistic. However, the "Portrait of a young writer" belongs to the best Persian portrait miniatures. Experts from the Los Angeles Museum believe that this may be a self-portrait of the artist.

Akbar service[edit]

The emperor Humayun was succeeded by Akbar, who was an even more passionate lover of portrait miniatures than his father. Mir Sayyid Ali, along with Abd al-Samad from childhood had taught the art of drawing to the future sultan, and between established warm relations. Sayyid Ali headed the imperial court art initiatives, and under his leadership began one of the most ambitious projects in the book of world history - "Hamzanama" a history of Amir Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad. The order, which was implemented from 1562 to 1577, was made by Emperor Akbar, and being launched under the leadership of Mir Sayyid Ali, was completed under the supervision of Abd al-Samad. The book was divided into fourteen volumes, each of which contained one hundred illustrations, in total - 1,400 miniatures. About 140 miniatures of the work have survived, which are scattered in various museums and collections around the world.

In all probability both the chief of the imperial court were directly involved in the illustration of this ambitious project only occasionally, mostly taking place in the overall direction, so their presence on the pages of the book are scarce. One of the most remarkable works in this manuscript is a miniature "Elijah the prophet rescues drowning Nur ad-Dahr," which is credited with a hand Mir Sayyid Ali. Along with the portrait of his father, Mir Musavvir, and the pattern of "Wise men, reflecting on the book" demonstrates the features of this miniature late master.


Mir Sayyid Ali remained faithful to the end of the Persian tradition and sultan Akbar, where he worked for an international group of artists who advocated the principles of Persian painting. In his works, one can see the influence of his father's and Sultan Muhammad. His work earned him numerous awards and praise. Vizier of Emperor Akbar I, Abu'l-Fazl, in his History of Akbar (Akbarnama) speaks of him the most enthusiastic manner. In al Fadl's the list of the best artists of the era (he counted more than a hundred) Mir Sayyid Ali tied for first place; al Fadl stating: "His art he learned from his father. From the moment he got to the palace, the king's favor beam shone on him. He had distinguished himself by his art ... ". The emperor Humayun gave him the honorary title of "Nadir-ul-Mulk" (The Miracle of the kingdom).[citation needed]

Seven years after the start of the project "Hamzanama" that is, approximately in 1569, the artist left the Mughal court, and as a devout Muslim pilgrim went to Mecca. Some researchers believe that he had died during the Hajj, while others say that he returned to the court of Akbar and died in 1580.[citation needed]



  • Amina Okada. Indian Miniatures Of The Mughal Court. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, N-Y. 1992
  • Dr. M. Abdulla Chaghatai. Mir Sayyid Ali Tabrezi. Publisher: Lahore: Kitab khana-i-nauras, 1955
  • Dickson M.B. / Welch S.C. The Houghton Shahnameh. vol.1-2, Cambridge, Mass. 1981

Further reading[edit]

  • Kossak , Steven (1997). Indian court painting, 16th-19th century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 0870997831. (see index: p. 148-152; fig. 5)