Muhammad Daulat (or Dawlat) was a leading artist in Mughal painting, active on imperial commissions between about 1595 and 1635–1640,during the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan.
He began his career painting large narrative scenes, then specialized in portraits, but later in his career seems to have specialized in highly ornate borders to miniatures. His father, L’al, served in the imperial court, very likely as one of the many artists in the imperial workshop.
Daulat trained there and was active as a painter by the mid-1590s, remaining for the whole of his career. His brother Daud (Da’ud) was also an artist, who is usually referred to in inscriptions and art history as “Daud, brother of Daulat”.Like Govardhan, the other main portrait specialist of the period, and ultimately a finer artist than Daulat, he was influenced by Basawan.
Important manuscript projects he contributed to in the 1590s include the British Library Akbarnama Akbar’s dispersed Razmnama, and the Baburnama in New Delhi (4 miniatures). In the next century, he contributed to the Windsor Padshahnama and the Kevorkian Album.
Daulat shows an “unusual self-consciousness” even in his early works. There are two identifiable self-portraits, both made at the emperor’s request, as well as portraits of other artist colleagues, and some of his most significant miniatures contain tiny signatures hidden among the detail of the painting, for example on the girdle of a soldier in one Baburnama miniature.
One signature reads “Muhammad Daulat, son of L’al”, and in another he describes himself as “the least of the houseborn”, indicating his father worked in the court. There are other “formulaic expressions of humility” of the type expected in the Mughal court, though Daulat takes these further than most; his inscription on the Gulshan Album page with his self-portrait ends “Written by the lowly, needy, insignificant, Daulat”. Sometimes he puns on his name, which means “empire”.