US capital begins ‘Celebration of India’ with peep into Mughal era

April 30th, 2008 - 12:29 pm ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, April 30 (IANS) An exhibition of Mughal era paintings opening a window into the world of the emperors of yore commences a two-year “Celebration of India” at Washington’s National Mall. Starting with an annual fund-raising gala of two American art institutions Wednesday, the exhibition “Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin” displaying India’s rich artistic and cultural legacy runs from May 3 to Aug 3.

Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery’s “Inspired by India” programming continues with another exhibition “Garden and Cosmos:

The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur,” from Oct 11 besides India-related performances, films, lectures and gallery talks.

The exhibition displays 86 masterpieces and calligraphy from the renowned Muraqqa collection, commissioned by Emperors Jahangir (1605-1627) and Shah Jahan (1627-1658) for display in lavish imperial albums. It also includes masterworks from the Freer Gallery’s famed collection of Mughal paintings.

These albums, called muraqqa or scrapbook in Persian, illustrate the relaxed private life of the imperial family, as well as Sufi saints and mystics, allies and courtiers, and natural history subjects during the Mughal rule from the 16th through the 19th centuries.

Produced by the greatest Mughal artists of the time, these paintings offer a fascinating, detailed lens into the lives of these great rulers, Dr Julian Raby, Director of the two art galleries noted at a media preview of the exhibition Tuesday.

American-born industrialist and philanthropist, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty began creating one of the world’s greatest collections of Mughal paintings at the turn of the 20th century to establish the Dublin library in 1954

Similar to their Timurid ancestors, the great Mughals had a deep appreciation for the art of the book and the expressive possibilities of the muraqqa, said Dr. Michael Ryan, Director of the Library.

Even before the death of his father Akbar, architect of the Mughal Empire and active patron of the arts, Emperor Jahangir established his own atelier and began commissioning lavish paintings that expressed his refined sensibility, as well as his own personal interests and curiosities.

Jahangir was a connoisseur who preferred a single painter to work on his images-as opposed to the collaborative painting method of his father’s time-and favoured naturalistic paintings and drawings that drew on Persian, Indian and European ideals.

With the rise of individual styles, Jahangir claimed that he was able to recognise any painter’s work from merely looking at the faces of subjects depicted in the paintings.

Under the patronage of Emperor Shah Jahan, Jahangir’s son and builder of the Taj Mahal, the Mughal fascination with floral imagery and imperial grandeur reached its zenith.

Paintings under Shah Jahan’s reign are notably characterised for their formal portraits, courtly scenes and jewel-like qualities. Revealing the expressive achievements of the Imperial atelier, these album folios, displaying both paintings and calligraphy, were mounted on pages with superbly painted borders and then bound with covers of stamped, gilded, painted or lacquered leather.

The exhibition is divided into 10 thematic sections, following an introductory group of Persian manuscripts collected by the Indian Mughal emperors. These manuscripts set the stage for a look at the Mughal dynastic histories and memoirs, and reveal the cultural and historical milieu in which these albums emerged.

An exciting feature of the exhibition are several recto-verso displays of doublesided folios. Other sections of the exhibition are devoted to separate albums, allowing the visitors to view the pages as they would have been viewed by the Mughals themselves.

The sections are titled: Iranian and Central Asian Manuscripts in the Mughal library; Poetry and Other Non-Historical Manuscripts; Memories, Biographies and Official Histories; The Salim Album; Shikarnama; The Gulshan Album; The Minto Album; The Late Shah Jahan Album; and The Nasir al-Din Shah Album.

Within these albums, visitors will view paintings by master artists, such as Abu’l-Hasan, Balchand, Bichitr, Govardhan, Mansur and Payag.

Accompanying the exhibition is a 528-page, fully-illustrated colour catalogue containing individual essays on each work presented in Muraqqa. There will be a number of scholarly talks and public programmes, such as album-making workshops and classical Indian and Sufi music performances.

Funds raised at Wednesday night gala will benefit the galleries by supporting the two art exhibitions, ImaginAsia family workshops, and other public programmes that highlight the art and culture of Asia.

The “Celebration of India” resumes with “Garden and Cosmos” and “India! A Festival of Lights”, a multifaceted festival that takes place Oct 17-19 and features folk music from western Rajasthan, gallery talks and tours, storytelling and puppet workshops.

India’s ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, will attend Wednesday’s gala. Former maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur, Gaj Singh II, will be the special guest for the evening. The Tata Group is the corporate chair of the gala.

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