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Manuscript illustration (probably the Gul-e-bakawali) with a fairy princess at court flanked by fairies, before her a prince flanked by demons. Gouache and gold on wasli. Awadh, circa late 18th century. 30.8 x 21.8cm

Others from this dispersed manuscript have appeared on the art market in recent yerars, at least one featuring Shuja-ud-Daula, Nawab of Awadh between 1754-75. The style of the painting suggests a workshop outside of the court probably patronised by wealthy merchants eager to emulate their social superiors by acquiring miniatures and illustrated manuscripts.

I am indebted to Tarun Pant who kindly offered an identification of this manuscript: "In all probability, this belongs to a popular story-telling tradition of the 17th-19th centuries. This tradition is called 'Gul-e-bakawali' [The flower of bakawali] and revolves around the fantastic love-story of a prince called Taj-ul-mulk and a fairy-princess called Bakawali/gul-e-bakawali...The story is set in India and involves fairies,divs (fantastic creatures) and princes especially the prince Taj-ul-Mulk. The origins of this tale are shrouded in the mists of Mughal India, but the contours of a consistent narrative appear at around the 17th century. It was rendered in Urdu, Bengali and Persian languages. The flower in question is a real flower that blooms at night and is found in some tropical regions of Sri Lanka and India ...The princely figure [in the painting] seems to be Taj-ul-Mulk. The regal figure esconced on the throne has wings and is demonstrably a 'fairy'. It may either be Gul-e-Bakawali or her mother - the queen-mother of fairies."

Bakawali is Epiphyllum oxypetalum, known as 'Queen of the night' in English.

Ref: Awadh ms5211

All images and text © Peter Blohm