Arts and Culture
A lasting effect of the European discovery of the maritime route to India has been the obscuration of a past of continuous engagement across the Eurasian landmass. Though earlier trade between Europe and Asia has left material traces that occasionally serve as reminders of such a past, intellectual and cultural links have been more thoroughly forgotten. In the early modern period, however, it was precisely these interactions that formed the basis of a sustained dialogue between Europeans and South Asians at the Mughal court.
The period following the Scientific Revolution saw the rise of empirical methods of studying and discussing the physical world, and the consequent delegitimisation of other methods. Nonetheless, the two-way traffic of images and information between the Low Countries and Mughal India demonstrates that, in the long seventeenth century, interpretation as a tool for discussion enabled the two regions to take each other’s knowledge seriously despite their disagreements. Through an examination of natural historical texts and images from European and Islamicate cultures, this paper proposes that both cultures demonstrate striking similarities in their approaches to nature. I argue that, in the realm of knowledge creation, they shared an emphasis on interpretation based on ideas—derived from scriptural, philosophical and classical texts—that had circulated between the two regions in preceding centuries. This may provide a key to understanding the intellectual engagements between these two seemingly incommensurable cultures that took place on a much more intensified scale in the early modern period.