Indian heritage in UK: 4 centuries of priceless art with royal family on display
Priceless paintings and manuscripts from India gathered as gifts and other acquisitions during centuries of British engagement will be on display at a unique exhibition in Edinburgh from July 23 to January 21, the Royal Collection Trust said on Friday.Updated: Jul 11, 2020 19:47 IST
Priceless paintings and manuscripts from India gathered as gifts and other acquisitions during centuries of British engagement will be on display at a unique exhibition in Edinburgh from July 23 to January 21, the Royal Collection Trust said on Friday.
Held in the Royal Library in Windsor Castle, the Royal Collection contains one of the finest south Asian paintings and manuscripts in the world, including the Mughal era ‘Padshahnama’, Tipu Sultan’s Quran and the story of Prahlada from the Bhagavata Purana, 1775–90, by the Nainsukh family workshop.
Most of the items will be on display for the first time in Scotland in the Queen’s Gallery in the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the exhibition titled ‘Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent’.
“Tracing more than 400 years of literary and artistic output, the exhibition offers new insights into the shared history of the British monarchy and the Indian sub-continent”, the trust said.
The items include those from the beginning of the British engagement with India, with the formation of the East India Company in 1600. The 17th century was a period of instability for the British monarchy, but in south Asia the Mughal empire was at its zenith, richer and stronger than any European power, the trust noted.
It said: “The extraordinary splendour of the Mughal court was captured by artists in intricate paintings and manuscripts. George III was given a number of these magnificent works, forming one of the greatest collections of South Asian works on paper outside the subcontinent”.
“In 1798, Lord Teignmouth, Governor-General of India, presented the King with six volumes as gifts from the Nawab of Awadh. Among these was the mid-17th-century Padshahnama (‘Book of Emperors’), an illustrated chronicle commissioned by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah-Jahan as a celebration of his reign and dynasty, described by Teignmouth as ‘the most splendid’ Mughal manuscript he ever saw”.
The rise of the East India Company was reflected in the gifts of manuscripts presented to successive British monarchs on behalf of the company and by company officers.
Detailed architectural drawings were commissioned from local draughtsmen by Colin MacKenzie, the Scottish Surveyor-General of the Company. A pen and ink drawing from 1800 shows an elevation of the temple at Srirangam, one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites in India.
The collection includes a posthumous portrait of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Punjab, 1842, was sent to Queen Victoria by his successor, Sher Singh, in an unusual jewel-encrusted gold frame with a letter of belated congratulations on her marriage and the birth of her first son.
It will be displayed in the exhibition alongside a sketch of his son, Maharaja Duleep Singh, by Queen Victoria. She received many books written about or dedicated to her from India, including a volume of her own published journals, The Queen’s Travels in Scotland and Ireland, translated into Hindi by the Maharajah of Benares.
During Queen Mary’s visit to India in the early 20th century, she acquired numerous works of art, including Queen Tissarakshita, 1911, by Abanindranath Tagore, founder of the Bengal School of Art, and several Pahari paintings, which will also be on display.