The Portrait and Its Doubles: Nāṣir ʿAlī Sirhindī, Mīrzā Bīdil and the Comparative Semiotics of Portraiture in Late Seventeenth-Century Indo-Persian Literature

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Abstract

This paper focuses on two late 17th century Indo-Persian stories dealing with “living” portraits: a couplet-poem by Nāṣir ʿAlī Sirhindī and a chapter of Mīrzā ‘Abd al-Qādir Bīdil’s autobiography. I investigate these narratives looking at the creative interactions between the codified models for talking about portraits as they are provided in the pre-Mughal Persian literary tradition, and the “newness” of 17th-century Indo-Persian intellectual space, in a cosmopolitan perspective. Accordingly, I explore how the literary dymension reacted to the notion of the visual reproduction in an epoch of social hyper-exposure of portrait painting, and how the conceptual atmosphere regarding visuality interacted with it. In this perspective, my reading will emphasize the expediency of a comparative approach looking, at least preliminarily, at the complex interactions with the Indic textual domain as well as the overlappings with the Latinate one.

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