Enfilade

Exhibition | Splendours of the Subcontinent

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on June 15, 2018

Payag, Jahangir Presents Prince Khurram with a Turban Ornament (12 October 1617), detail, 1656–57 (London: Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 1005025.an), from the Padshahnama (‘Book of Emperors’), an illuminated manuscript recording the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah-Jahan, which was sent to George III by the ruler of Awadh in 1799. More information on the Christian iconography of the wall paintings is available from the Royal Collection website

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Press release (7 June 2018) from the Royal Collection Trust:

Splendours of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, 8 June — 14 October 2018

Curated by Emily Hannam

Two exhibitions at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace bring together some of the finest examples of craftsmanship and literary and artistic production from the Indian subcontinent. Both are drawn entirely from the Royal Collection, which contains one of the world’s greatest and most wide-ranging collections of material from the region. Exploring the long-standing relationship between the British Monarchy and South Asia, Splendours of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts presents 150 works from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, most of which are on public display for the first time. In the complementary exhibition Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–6, gifts given to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales go on display in London for the first time in 130 years.

Indian School, Kurma, the Second Incarnation of Vishnu, ca 1790, 41 × 27 cm, page dimensions (Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 1005115.e).

Since the early 17th century, diplomatic gift-giving has played a crucial role in the development of the relationship between the British Monarchy and rulers of South Asia. Among the most important gifts received from the subcontinent is the Padshahnama (‘Book of Emperors’), an illuminated manuscript from 1656–57 recording the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah-Jahan, sent to George III by the ruler of Awadh in 1799. Ten paintings from the Padshahnama, the only contemporary illustrated imperial volume to survive, are shown in the exhibition.

The Khamsa (‘Quintet’) of Nava’i, 1492, and the Gulistan (‘Rose Garden’) of Sa’di, 1584, also presented to George III, are among the finest examples of manuscripts that combine intricate calligraphy with exquisite illuminations. Sacred religious texts were also presented as gifts, including the 3.5m-long Quran Scroll, thought to have been given to George IV by one of the rulers of the Carnatic. All 114 chapters of the Quran are written on the scroll’s 5cm-wide surface in a miniscule naskh script, known as ghubar (‘dust’).

Queen Victoria acquired many South Asian books and manuscripts, including a volume of her own published journals, The Queen’s Travels in Scotland and Ireland, translated into Hindi by the Maharaja of Benares. Victoria’s interest in South Asian culture continued throughout her life, and her studies of the Hindustani language, undertaken in her seventies with her Indian secretary Abdul Karim, are recorded in her Hindustani diaries, which are shown in the exhibition with her Hindustani phrasebook.

Less well known are the paintings and manuscripts given to, and bought by, King George V and Queen Mary during their two tours of South Asia in the early 20th century. The King and Queen acquired contemporary works, such as Queen Tissarakshita, 1911, by Abanindranath Tagore, founder of the Bengal School of Art, as well as historic paintings reflecting the diverse cultures, history and religions of South Asia. These include a series of 16 paintings from the Pahari region, c.1775–90, depicting the story of the boy Prahlada as told in the seventh book of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the great Hindu sacred texts.

King George V’s father, King Edward VII, was only the second member of the royal family to visit the subcontinent, undertaking a four-month tour in 1875–76 when Prince of Wales. Travelling almost 10,000 miles and meeting more than 90 local rulers in an effort to establish personal and diplomatic links, the Prince was presented with over 2,000 examples of Indian design and craftsmanship as part of the traditional exchange of gifts. The visit gave the Prince the opportunity to experience first-hand the magnificence of the Indian courts. Many of the gifts he received were ceremonial items connected to courtly customs, such as a pair of enamelled peacock feather fans, which play an important role in the spectacle of a durbar (audience). A ten-piece gold service, given by the Maharaja of Mysore, contains an attardan (perfume holder), rosewater sprinklers and a paandan  (betel-nut holder), items associated with welcoming guests to an Indian court.

Traditional arms and armour form the largest group of gifts received by the Prince. These presentation pieces, intended to display their maker’s skill and creativity, include a dagger incorporating loose pearls that travel along a channel in the blade when tilted, and a gold punch dagger embellished with rubies and emeralds, fitted with a single flintlock pistol on both sides of the blade. Enamelled jewellery and decorative items from Jaipur were highly sought after by European visitors. An enamelled gold and diamond perfume holder, presented by Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur, took five years to produce. It opens like a lotus flower to reveal a hidden cup and cover, and is decorated with scenes of Jaipur’s great palaces.

The Prince recognised the significant cultural and artistic value of the gifts he had received. On his return to Britain he made arrangements for the items to be placed on public display, first at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) and then at the Bethnal Green Museum, followed by exhibitions in Paris, Copenhagen, and across the UK. Between 1876 and 1880 more than two million people in Britain alone saw the collection, which brought the wonders of Indian art to the British public and played an instrumental role in the intertwined narrative of British and Indian design.

Published by the Royal Collection Trust, catalogues for the two exhibitions are distributed in the USA and Canada by The University of Chicago Press:

Kajal Meghani, Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India, 1875–6 (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2017), 200 pages, ISBN: 9781909741423, $40.

Emily Hannam, Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2018), 256 pages, ISBN 978-1909741454, £30 / $60.

The Royal Library, Windsor Castle, is home to one of the most important collections of South Asian paintings and manuscripts in the world. This publication brings together highlights of these superb works, many of which have never before been publically displayed or published. From dazzling Mughal poetic texts to modern masterpieces, they span a geographical expanse from Kashmir to Kerala and for a period of more than 400 years.

This publication presents new scholarship exploring the history of how these works entered the Royal Collection, tracing the long-standing relationship between the British Crown and South Asia. Beautifully illustrated and meticulously researched, Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent provides a fascinating insight into his rich and hither-to underexplored aspect of the Royal Collection.

Emily Hannam is Assistant Curator of Islamic and South Asian Collections, Royal Collection Trust. She curated Splendors of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, and featured on the BBC series Art, Passion and Power. She holds degrees in art history from the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford, specialising in the art of the book in South Asia.

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