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Portrait of Guru Nanak, approx. 1770–1800

"Portrait of Guru Nanak, approx. 1770–1800. India; Probably Lucknow or Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh state. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Kapany Collection, 1998.60. Photograph © Asian Art Museum. "

Portrait of Guru Nanak, approx. 1770–1800. India; Probably Lucknow or Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh state. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Kapany Collection, 1998.60. Photograph © Asian Art Museum. 

The Persian inscription in the upper border identifies the saintly figure in this painting as Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak (1469–1539).

In his lifelong ministry, he proclaimed the religious unity of the two principal contemporary faiths, Hinduism and Islam. He is depicted here wearing both the headdress of a Muslim saint and the robes of a Hindu holy man.

This image was painted approximately three hundred years after the guru’s death in the cosmopolitan style of the imperial workshops of northern Indian royal courts. This painting belongs to a genre of Mughal paintings depicting holy men, and it once was part of an album of paintings and calligraphy, a type of book that was compiled for Mughal royal and elite patrons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although the Mughals were Muslim, their patronage extended to various ecumenical subjects.