A FAT-TAILED RAM
A FAT-TAILED RAM
Mughal, India, 17th Century
Opaque pigment on paper heightened with gold
Image 6 1/4 x 4 in. (16 x 10.1 cm.)
Folio 13 3/8 x 9 7/8 in. (34 x 25 cm.)
Sir Cowasji Jehangir Collection
For a related example of a Mughal painting of a ram dated to c.1625 - 50 in the John and Berte Ford Collection, see P. Pal, Desire and Devotion, Baltimore, 2001, p. 153, no. 77.
Following in the tradition of animal studies under Akbar, this curious portrait of a tethered fat-tailed ram is an unusual subject that clearly held an important role in the patrons life. Standing before a golden sky on a gently rising slope, the sheep stands perfectly still, tethered by a red collar and golden clip. The artist has gone to great pains to detail the striking colouring of the fleece and the unusual patterning around the head and neck of the animal. Such attention to detail suggests that it may have been a prized animal, reared specifically for breeding.
More common subjects for animal paintings were hunted game, exotic birds and foreign beasts, such as the Imperial Ram in the Sawai Man Singh II Museum, Jaipur (see Stuart Carey Welch, India: Art and Culture, p. 175, no. 108). Although the current animal is likely to have been prized for its domestic function and unique fleece pattern, the fat-tailed ram (Ovis aries) has been the subject of veneration since at least the 12th century, as evident in an Iranian bronze censer in the David Collection, Copenhagen, Inv. no. 31/1972. Further depictions from 3000 BC, on stone vessels from Uruk, and the later Ur (2400 BCE), in Mesopotamia are also known.
While a number of exotic Jacobs sheep and more common varieties appear in both Persian and Akbari narrative pictures of the 16th century, no other reference to this purely domestic species is known. Fat-tailed or fat-rumped sheep are so-named because they can store large amounts of fat in the tail and region of the rump. Fat-tailed sheep are found mostly in the extreme environments of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. They grow wool, but are raised primarily for meat or milk production. Fat-tailed sheep still comprise roughly a quarter of the entire world's sheep population Locally known as Dumba they are still prized in and around Jaipur and Ajmer districts of Rajasthan. In India these sheep were specifically bred for the unique quality of the fat stored in the tail area and the fat (called lyyah) was used extensively in medieval Arab and Persian cookery. As noted by Salma Husain, lard from the fatty tail of sheep was the chosen cooking ingredient of Mughal cooking. (Salma Husain, The Emperors Table: The Art of Mughal Cuisine, New Delhi, 2011, p. 143)