Exhibition | Art and Stories from Mughal India

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on August 2, 2016

Press release for the exhibition now on view at the CMA:

Art and Stories from Mughal India
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 31 July — 23 October 2016

Curated by Sonya Rhie Quintanilla

Women Enjoying the River at the Forest’s Edge, ca. 1765. Mughal, Murshidabad or Lucknow. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper; 33.1 × 24.9 cm (The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2013.351).

Women Enjoying the River at the Forest’s Edge, ca. 1765. Mughal, Murshidabad or Lucknow. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper; 33.1 × 24.9 cm (The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2013.351).

Art and Stories from Mughal India presents the story of the Mughals— and stories for the Mughals—in 100 exquisite paintings from the 1500s to 1800s. The exhibition and accompanying Mughal painting collection catalogue celebrate the Cleveland Museum of Art’s centennial with works drawn from the 2013 landmark acquisition of the Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim Collection of Deccan and Mughal paintings, many exhibited and published for the first time. Complementing the paintings are 39 objects including costume, textiles, jewelry, arms and armor, architectural elements and decorative arts, some on loan from other prominent institutions, such as the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, the Brooklyn Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University. These objects resonate with details in the paintings and bring the sumptuous material culture of the Mughal world to life.

“The Cleveland Museum of Art has long boasted a particularly fine holding of Indian art, and with the acquisition of the Benkaim collection of Mughal paintings, we are now fortunate to have an extraordinary representation of one of its most celebrated artistic traditions,” said William M. Griswold, Director. “This exhibition—beautifully curated and magnificently installed—vividly evokes the richness and cosmopolitanism of one of the world’s great empires.”

The Mughal Empire existed for more than 300 years, from 1526 until the advent of British colonial rule in 1858. It encompassed territory that included vast portions of the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan. The Mughal rulers were Central Asian Muslims who assimilated many religious faiths under their administration. Famed for its distinctive architecture, including the Taj Mahal, the Mughal Empire is also renowned for its colorful and engaging paintings, many taking the form of scenes from narrative tales.

Art and Stories from Mughal India is organized into eight sections based on the Persian idea of the nama. Nama may be translated as any of a number of English words, among them: book, tale, adventure, story, account, life and memoir. Paintings were integral to the production of namas in book form for royal collections in Mughal India. Art and Stories from Mughal India sets the paintings, now long separated from their bound volumes, into their nama contexts. Four of the exhibition’s sections focus on a specific nama: a fable, a sacred biography, an epic, and a mystic romance. Many of the paintings, long celebrated for their vivid color, startling detail and alluring sense of realism, are displayed double-sided to show complete folios from albums and manuscripts, a constant reminder of their original status as part of a larger book or series.

“The paintings are products of a powerful, multiethnic dynasty of rulers who valued art and literature as essential elements of court life,” said Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, the George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art. “They were made to inspire awe and delight, and this exhibition aims to do the same by making them accessible to audiences today.”

Sumptuously designed to evoke the spaces of Mughal palace interiors and verandas where paintings were kept and viewed, the exhibition opens with a 25-foot-long 16th-century floral arabesque carpet, rarely seen because of its scale. The first two galleries are devoted to Mughal paintings made for Akbar, the third Mughal emperor (r. 1556–1605), who saw to it that his copies of fables, adventures and histories were accompanied by ample numbers of paintings. On view are some of the earliest works from Akbar’s reign by celebrated artists, such as Basavana (Basawan) and Dasavanta (Daswanth), from the Tuti-nama (Tales of a Parrot), and the culminating scene from the Hamza-nama (Adventures of Hamza), 70 cm in height, one of the few surviving pages from this massive 1,400-folio project in which the Mughal style became thoroughly synthesized.

The next two galleries explore the relationship between Akbar and his oldest son, Salim, whose birth in 1569 was cause for great celebration. By 1600, Salim was ready to lead the empire and mutinously set up his own court where he brought paintings, artists and manuscripts from Akbar’s palace and commissioned new works, such as the illustrated Mir’at al-quds (Mirror of Holiness), a biography of Jesus written in Persian by a Spanish Jesuit priest at the Mughal court, completed in 1602. Like the Tutinama (Tales of a Parrot), the Mir’at al-quds manuscript is remarkable not only for its historical importance and artistic beauty, but because it survives nearly intact, though unbound, with few missing pages. Both manuscripts, crucial for the study of Mughal painting, are kept in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and most of their folios have never before been shown.

The story of the Mughals continues with works made for and collected by Emperor Jahangir—the name Prince Salim took after the death of Akbar in 1605—as well as his son Shah Jahan (r. 1627–58) and grandson Alamgir (r. 1658–1707). This period spanning the 17th century saw the production of some of the most exquisite paintings and objects ever made for the Mughals. Textiles, courtly arms, garments, jades, marble architectural elements and porcelains bring to life the painted depictions of the Mughal court’s refined splendor at the height of its wealth.

Concluding the exhibition is a large, dramatic gallery, painted black in keeping with depictions of the interiors of 18th-century Mughal palaces, with paintings framed in gold, hookah bowls, jewels, a vina, lush textiles and a shimmering millefleurs carpet. The assemblage celebrates the joy in Mughal art of the mid-1700s. The scenes predominantly take place in the world of women and the harem, where the emperor Muhammad Shah (r. 1719–48), who was largely responsible for the reinvigoration of imperial Mughal painting, grew up, sheltered by his powerful mother from the murderous intrigues that wracked the court after the death of Alamgir in 1707.

Throughout the exhibition viewers will note the international character of Mughal art and culture. Flourishing during the Age of Expansion between the 1500s and 1700s, Mughal India was the source for goods and natural resources coveted throughout the Western world, and visitors to the exhibition will encounter the origins of familiar aspects of current daily life in the works of art on view.

To complement Art and Stories from Mughal India, the Cleveland Museum of Art has developed a free, innovative CMA Mughal exhibition app, in which the exhibition’s curator, Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, relates stories and describes paintings. The app includes hyperlinks to an audio glossary of names and terms, and 100 tweetable facts illustrated with a related detail image from the 100 paintings on view. CMA Mughal—available now for download from the iTunes Store for Apple devices running iOS9 and above—is the first in a series of exhibition apps that will be available for use after the exhibition ends.

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From D. Giles, Ltd:

Sonya Rhie Quintanilla with Dominique DeLuca and essays by Mohsen Ashtiany, Marcus Fraser, Catherine Glynn, Ruby Lal, and Pedro Moura Carvalho, Mughal Paintings: Art and Stories, The Cleveland Museum of Art (London: Giles, 2016), 368 pages, ISBN: 978-1907804892, £50 / 70.

Mughal-Paintings-catalogue-coverThe mighty Persian warrior Rustam; the Israelite prophets; the Christian Messiah; the Mughal emperors; and the women of the harem—Mughal paintings tell the stories of these figures from epic poetry, holy texts, and the history of the Mughals, one of the greatest empires of the early modern period. Captured in this unique art form, Mughal paintings blend Persian and Indian themes and styles, along with Central Asian and European elements. The results are works of great beauty: intense and delicate, detailed and luxurious, with a distinctive character of their own.

The Cleveland Museum of Art holds one of the leading collections of Indian art in the United States, illustrated here in stunning detail. The provenance, publication history, and technical information of each manuscript painting is also accompanied by full transcriptions of Persian and Arabic calligraphy. This, the third volume in a series dedicated to the Cleveland Museum’s special conservation collections, casts new light on these stunning paintings.

Sonya Rhie Quintanilla is the George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art at The Cleveland Museum of Art. Mohsen Ashtiany is is currently a research scholar and editor on the Encyclopaedia Iranica at the Center for Iranian Studies of Columbia University. Marcus Fraser is is an independent scholar, cataloguer, curator, and specialist consultant in Islamic and Indian manuscripts and painting. Catherine Glynn served from 1970 to 1980 as assistant and associate curator of Indian and Islamic art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Pedro Moura Carvalho has served as deputy director, Art and Programs, at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, before which he was the deputy director and chief curator of the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Peranakan Museum in Singapore. Ruby Lal is professor of South Asian Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies at Emory University, Atlanta.

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