At his naming ceremony in Navsari, Gujarat in 1839, six-day-old Jamsetji Tata wore a maroon dress made of aged silk and an ornate cap striped with gold.
Fineries of the infant Tata, the man who first took strident steps towards India’s economic independence, will be on display for the first time at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya from Tuesday, as part of an exhibition titled East Meets West.
The exhibition will coincide with the launch of the book East Meets West: A Selection of Asian and European Art from the Tata Collection. It comprises 100 rare art objects from the extensive Tata Collection, which was bequeathed to the museum by Jamsetji’s sons Dorab and Ratan Tata in 1922 and 1933.
The Tata brothers and the younger Ratan, in particular, were committed collectors and patrons of art. European and Indian paintings, Indian arms and armours, art-deco objects, textile, furniture and East Asian art works were part of Ratan’s sizeable art fortune.
“Objects from the Tata collection were part of the museum’s foundation collection and have been distributed through its galleries. We’re showcasing the masterpieces together for the first time,” said Sabyasachi Mukherjee, museum’s director.
Emperor Akbar’s Persian-inscribed glinting armour from 1581 AD is among the Tatas’ treasures.
‘The personal garment of the emperor of lofty fortune, Akbar’ is inscribed on the collar. His shield inscribed with the 12 zodiac signs was considered evidence of his deep interest in Indian astrology.
The display also features French furniture with mother-of-pearl inlay work from Ratan Tata’s London residence, the York House, alleged to be the birthplace of England’s Queen Anne.
The book attempts to serve as a catalogue of a selection of the 5,400 art objects donated by the Tatas. Over two and half years the museum and Marg publications sought out scholars and experts from Europe, Japan, China and India to contextualise the vast and significant collection, on which there was only limited archival material courtesy the Tata archives.
“This is an important collection for India. It’s priceless not because of its aesthetics but historicity,” said Rashmi Poddar, associate director of Marg.