Exhibition of exquisite jewels from the Mughal period in India begins at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Display of works from the Al-Thani Collection.

NEW YORK: A superb new exhibition ‘Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection’ begins today, October 28, through January 25, 2015, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, here in New York.
Finial from the throne of Tipu Sultan, Mysore, ca. 1790. Gold, inlaid with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds; lac core. The Al-Thani Collection.

Finial from the throne of Tipu Sultan, Mysore, ca. 1790. Gold, inlaid with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds; lac core. The Al-Thani Collection.

Some 60 jeweled objects from the private collection formed by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani are on display in the exhibition. It provides a glimpse into the evolving styles of the jeweled arts in India from the Mughal period until the early 20th century, with emphasis on later exchanges with the West.
The exhibition, sponsored by Cartier, include historical works from the Mughal period in the 17th century and from various courts and centers of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Hyderabad; a group of late 19th- and 20th-century jewels made for India’s Maharajas by Cartier and other Western firms; and contemporary commissions inspired by traditional Indian forms.
On view are also several antique gems that were incorporated into modern settings by Maison Cartier, jewelry designer Paul Iribe, and others. Contextual information is provided through historical photographs and portraits of Indian royalty wearing works similar to those on view.
Among the Mughal works are an elegant jade dagger originally owned by two emperors—the hilt was made for Jahangir and it was re-bladed for his son Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal. In the 19th century, the dagger was in the collection Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the Morse code. The hilt features a miniature sculpture—a European-style head.
Historically, the gem form favored throughout India has been the cabochon. In the traditional kundan technique, a gem is set within a bed of gold, and often backed in foil to enhance its color.  Another highlight of the exhibition will be a gem-set tiger head finial originally from the throne of Tipu Sultan (1750–1799), which incorporated numerous cabochon diamonds, rubies, and emeralds in a kundan setting.
Also on view will be several examples of North Indian sarpesh and jigha (turban ornaments) from 1875–1900, brought together in a display that traces their evolution from traditional plume-inspired forms and techniques toward more Western shapes and construction.  Silver foil backing was used; however, the diamonds were set using a Western-style claw or coronet, rather than the kundan setting.
And a work designed by the artist Paul Iribe and made by goldsmith Robert Linzeler in 1910 in Paris recalls the kind of aigrette (decorative pin) that would have ornamented the turban of a Maharaja or Nizam. At the center is a large emerald, carved in India between 1850 and 1900.

Ragamala – Picturing Sound: Visitors, who did not catch the exhibition Ragamala, have an opportunity to do, through December 14th of this year at the museum.
A ragamala, translated from Sanskrit as “garland of ragas,” is a series of paintings depicting a range of musical melodies known as ragas. Its root word, raga, means color, mood, and delight, and the depiction of these moods was a favored subject in later Indian court paintings. The celebration of music in painting is a distinctly Indian preoccupation.
Ragamalas were first identified as a specific painting genre in the second half of the fifteenth century, but their ancestry can be traced to the fifth- to seventh-century Brihaddeshi treatise, which states: “A raga is called by the learned that kind of composition which is adorned with musical notes . . . which have the effect of coloring the hearts of men.” Often, the mood, or raga, is also written as poetry on the margins of the painting. These works evocatively express the intersections of painting, poetry, and music in Indian court art.
The unifying subject of a ragamala is love, which is evoked as a range of specific emotions (rasa) that have a corresponding musical form. In paintings these are typically the trials and passions of lovers, which are explored in both sound (raga) and analogous imagery, with a raga generally understood to denote the male protagonist and a ragini the female. These musical modes are also linked to six seasons—summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter, winter, and spring—and times of the day, dawn, dusk, night, and so on.
Created as loose leaf folios, typically thirty-six or forty-two in number, which were stored in a portfolio, ragamala circulated within the inner court circles that commissioned them. Viewing these paintings was a pleasurable pastime for courtiers, their guests, and the ladies of the zenana. These ragamalas were also painted as murals in the private quarters of palaces, though few of these have survived.

The exhibition features Indian paintings and musical instruments from the museum’s collection.

By The American Bazaar Staff
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