Untamed colour … detail from The Disrobing from Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin at Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The painter Howard Hodgkin has one of the world’s finest collections of Indian art from the Mughal period and here, for the first time, he shows the entire visual feast to the public. In the early 16th century the Mughal emperor Babur extended his rule from Afghanistan into northern India. He and his dynasty were Muslims, and they brought the traditions of Islamic art into India. Manuscript illumination and miniature paintings were arts that reached superb heights in Persia from the 13th century onward. In India, the Mughal rulers imported such skills as they delighted in superbly detailed portraits, fantastic scenes from legend and history, and the depiction of nature in scintillating colours.

Hodgkin has said he does not look for particular iconographic or historical topics in this rich artistic territory, just for “great art”. And he should know how to recognise it.

The connections between Mughal art and his own painterliness may seem so obvious they do not need pointing out. Hodgkin is a poet of colour, and the Indian paintings he collects abound in intense, non-naturalist colours.


Jonathan Jones