Humayun became familiar with Persian art during his exile at the Safavid court. Many Persian painters joined Humayun on his return journey to Hindustan. The most renowned among them were Mir Sayyid Ali and Abdus Samad.
Akbar patronized this art form. Early projects of Akbar’s reign include the Hamzanama, the story of Mir Hamza, an uncle of Prophet Muhammad, who tried to convert the world into Islam.
The manuscript comprised of fourteen volumes, each having one hundred illustrations. At least fifty painters are believed to have worked on the project.
Among the major painters at Akbar’s court was Daswanth who illustrated the Razmnama (the Persian translation of the ‘Mahabharata’). After the Razmnama, Akbar’s interest shifted to historical works.
The most important of Akbar’s historical projects was the Akbarnama. With the Emperor’s growing historical subjects, Basawan became one of the prominent artists. Mughal painting scaled new heights under Jahangir.
He commissioned individual pictures and portraits which he placed in elegant albums. The only important historical manuscript illustrated during this period was the Jahangirnama.
Under Jahangir painters developed their individal styles and areas of expertise. Mansur excelled as a painter of animals an flowers, Abul Hasan and Bishan Das in imperial portraits, and Govardhan in paintings of holy men and musicians.
Shah Jahan, unlike Jahangir, was more interested in architecture. In his 8th regnal year, however, he commissioned an official history of this reign, the Padshahnama.
The illustrations to the text depict court ceremonies and important events. Like Jahangir, Shah Jahan also formed albums, the best of them now known as the Minto Album.
As a consequence of Aurangzeb’s lack of interest in the art of painting, there was a dispersal of artists to the courts of local rulers which led to the growth of the Rajput and Pahari schools of painting.