Thirty years ago when British curator Susan Stronge began her career in the Indian department of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (VAM), she knew nothing about Mughal or Indian history.
Today, after publishing four books on various court cultures in the Indian subcontinent, Stronge believes she can spend her lifetime studying Mughal art. In Made for Mughal Emperors, her new coffee table book, that was released in India during Diwali, this dedication is self-evident.
“The Mughal Empire was one of the richest of its time, and a magnet for craftsmen and artists. In my book, I wanted to bring out the spectacular range of art work they produced,” said Stronge, now a senior curator at VAM and a specialist in Hindustani court arts. The author is in Mumbai to attend a literary festival and promote her book.
The book is a compilation of photographs of Mughal paintings, architecture, jewels, weapons and other ornaments that Stronge sourced over the years from museums around the world. The focus, throughout, is on the minute intricacies in all the floral designs and inscriptions.
“We still don’t know how those artists crafted some miniature details which can only be seen through magnifying glasses, but you can see that tradition carried forward today with the local ‘Name on Rice’ art in India,” said Stronge, who believes that under the patronage of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan, art in northern India was completely transformed into an Iranian-Indian cultural blend.
Among her favourite items featured in the book is Shah Jahan’s ornate drinking cup chiselled from a jade rock and a tiny spinel (the most highly valued Moghul precious stone) from the Peacock Throne.
“Most people know the Moghuls for large monuments like the Taj Mahal, but I want to show readers that the Emperor’s drinking cup is just as amazing,” said Stronge.