A robot in a 400-year-old painting of Jahangir is a lesson in how rulers project global power

This Article First Appeared In The Scroll On June 18, 2023

Riddle time: what do you get if you cross the story of mediaeval Indian art with the prehistory of robotics?

Answer: A painting called Jahangir Entertains Shah Abbas, which features possibly the first visual representation of an automaton in South Asian art. To a lay viewer, the robot may seem an anachronistic curiosity, the unmistakable clue of a time-travelling replicant crashing a 400-year-old royal party. The truth is more straightforward – involving travel only through time zones – but no less fascinating, revealing the intersections of international commerce, imperial self-representation and reinterpretations of foreign technology.

Share with