Alexander Visits the Sage Plato in His Mountain Cave: Folio from the Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi, Mughal period (1526–1858), 1597–98
Attributed to Basawan
Main support: ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; margins: gold on dyed paper
page: 9 7/8 x 6 1/4 in. (25.1 x 15.9 cm), mat: 19 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. (48.9 x 36.2 cm)
Gift of Alexander Smith Cochran, 1913 (13.228.30)
The brilliant Persian-language poet of Sultanate India, Amir Khusrau Dihlavi wrote his reprise of Nizami's Khamsa at the end of the thirteenth century and very beginning of the fourteenth. The fourth book of this work, the A’ina-yi Sikanderi (Mirror of Alexander), gives a selective account of the life of Alexander. In addition to his military exploits, Alexander sought advice from spiritual authorities. In this painting, he visits the sage Plato in his mountain cave and is advised on rulership and warned of his own impending death. This picture comes from one of several deluxe illustrated manuscripts produced for the Mughal emperor Akbar in the royal book atelier in Lahore in the 1590s.
Since the exploits of Iskandar (Alexander) in Islamic literature are largely myth, there is no reason why the hero, one of the most dedicated seekers after hidden truth, should not consult one of the world's most renowned sages. In Islamic literature, the theme of a powerful temporal ruler humbly seeking the advice of a wise ascetic has a long tradition, and illustrations of the subject generally show, as here, a remote cave where the aecetic lives in retirement. The artist has enlivened the solemn proceedings with spirited touches—the disciple poking the fire while peeking into the cooking pot, the hunters in the foreground, the young man washing his hands in a waterfall, and the sensitively rendered birds and animals.