The Mughal dynasty ruled the area that is now considered India and Persia between the years 1526 and 1857. The Ottoman Empire was able to sustain power from July 1299 to the end of the First World War in 1923. Both empires used a form of monarchy which was called absolutism; that is the governmental belief that the monarch has supreme and absolute power. Absolutism was a form of monarchial power where the ruler's authority was unchecked. No group: not the clergy, not courtiers, not legislatures, or members of the social elite had the power to prohibit the monarch from doing whatever he or she pleased. It was a system of government controlled by one individual with absolute power over the entirety of his or her realm. Those that dared challenge the monarch met swift ends which would deter others from attempting to thwart the ruler. Among the nations where evidence exists that the rulers of the country were able to create absolutist regimes were the Ottoman Empire and Mughals. The Ottoman Empire was able to retain power for more than 600 years while the Mughal were only able to keep control for half of that time, proving that the former was a far more successful government structure than the latter.
Both the Ottoman and Mughal Empires had certain characteristics in common. Both had a majority population of Muslim peoples, although the two nations were of different sects of Islam. They were able to use the religious fervor of their respective populations to ensure their retention of power, the monarchs comparing themselves to Muhammad and to their rule as the will of God (Stearns). This made challenging the monarchs even more hazardous and unlikely because now they were not only defying their leader by rebelling, but defying God himself who was working through their leader. Fear of punishment through religious dogma has been a powerful tool toward maintaining subordination and subjugation since the founding of organized religion.
One of the most frequent characteristics of an absolutist monarchy was the erection and possession of at least one extremely lavish palace. Such extravagant homes could be found in France and many other European nations. Those who desired to show a similar standing of power would build equally or even more extravagant castles in order to prove a point to their political adversaries. The palace, which was the home of the monarch, was intended to reflect the power of that individual. The home of the Ottoman ruler was the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Necipo-lu writes:
The vast imperial palaces, conceived as architectural metaphors for three patrimonial-bureaucratic empires with their hierarchical organization of state functions around public, semi-public, and private zones culminating in gardens, constituted elaborate stages for dynamic representation. Animated by court rituals, each of them projected a distinctive royal image, invented with a specific theory of dynastic legitimacy in mind (303).
The idea was that the larger and more opulent the home, the more grand the perception of the person who inhabited it. This same sentiment is true of the other forms of art surrounding these governments. All works of art: paintings, music, architecture, and literature in an absolutist society will face the scrutiny of that government's leader. Each piece is representative of that culture and will reflect the leader of that culture. Consequently, the leaders of absolutist nations were heavily interested in the artistic representations which would come about from inside the country.
Under the absolutist regime of the Ottoman Empire, the area of the world became primarily agrarian. The realm was controlled by agriculture, but the farmers had no power and were little more than medieval serfs (Allcock 179). This governmental form, known as the millet system intentionally segregated "all kinds of political, economic and cultural activities, long after the displacement of the Ottoman authority" (282). Leaders of absolutist regimes endeavor to create sole power by limiting the authority of others. By segregating the individual powers, the leaders of the Ottoman Empire ensured that no one individual would have as much power as they did. No individual, save him or herself, would have information or any strong authority in more than one section of the country's administration. The Turks who led the Ottoman Empire were historically ruthless in their aggression towards other nations. This aggression led to the expansion of the Ottoman Empire all along the eastern Mediterranean coastline.
The Ottoman Empire was rare in that an Asian or Middle Eastern country was able to gain a good deal of control over European soil. The artwork of the period usually evokes the strength of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish people who ran that Empire. Often the moral standing of a government will find itself reflected in the productions of that culture. In the case of the Ottomans, so much of life was dominated by the idea of violence. This violence, in turn made itself apparent in artwork that was released by those who were controlled by the Ottoman leaders. These leaders wished to project a sense of strength over their adversaries. This could be subtly done through works of art like the aforementioned structures.
The Mughal Empire began when Babur, the "adventurous descendant of Timur came down the mountains of Central Asia, unleashed a squall of gunpowder upon the local Muslim and non-Muslim lords of north India, and conquered the territories that became the base for the later empire-building efforts of his grandson Akbar" (Disclaiming 38). In an absolutist regime, the monarch in power controls all aspects of the government and that includes the creation of his political and historical legacy. He or she oversees all media regarding their depiction, including writing and portraiture. Timur of the Mughals was said to be illiterate and yet one of the goals of his reign was to control any images of himself that were depicted in writing or in art (Disclaiming 39). This culminated in 1401 when he commissioned a preacher to write a history of his leadership which was to be written in the simplest language possible and to include only glowing praise. "Short of dictating the text himself, these literary undertakings are the nearest thing to composing an autobiography by an unlettered man who nevertheless was keenly aware of the importance of exerting control over his public image (39). The effect of these works was that everyone in his domain knew the story of Timur that he wished them to have access to and nothing more. He also commissioned artists and artisans to depict him as a man of high culture, despite his rural heritage. His legacy was shaped by the image of himself that he wished to be exalted and that is exactly what happened because Timur was a man of such power that no one dared call him on his self-serving biographical countenance.
Timur's descendants learned from the effective manipulation of their relative how to manipulate the people (Hodgson 490). Many of the artwork of later leaders was designed to imitate the works during Timur's reign. The psychological effect would be to equate the present ruler with one that history has labeled as something spectacular. The fact that the man himself is what led to that history projection was irrelevant. Babur modeled himself and his reign on that of Timur, that is until this approach became a political liability, in which political maneuvering took the place of historical loyalty. Babur realigned himself, this time appeasing (and thus manipulating) the Muslim population by claiming to be a ghazi king (Disclaiming 43). The purpose of this was to align himself with the Muslim leaders that Babur's ancestor had slaughtered and neutralizing potential revolution from that quarter.
Unlike the Ottomans, the Mughals were not as organized militarily (Stearns). After repeated attempts by enemy invaders, the empire found…