Mughal India Explored In Major Exhibition At British Library

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, is the British Library’s latest exhibition examining one of the most powerful and opulent empires the world has ever known. This major new exhibition opening tomorrow, looks for the first time at the entire 300 year reign of this highly cultivated empire. It not only traces the evolution of Mughal art and its empire between the 16th and 19th centuries, exhibiting over 200 exquisite paintings and objects, but will shed light on daily life at court with newly discovered and beautifully illustrated manuscripts drawn from the Library’s outstanding Central and South Asian collections.

Curated by Dr Malini Roy, Curator of Visual Arts at the British Library, Mughal India reveals a new perspective on the rich cultural heritage of the Mughal court. From the eclectic line of emperors themselves, to their impact on art, science, politics and religion, visitors will be drawn into a long-diminished world of extravagance through incredible objects: from a jewelled flywhisk, imperial portraiture and imposing warrior armour, to domestic manuals, early cookbooks and personal memoirs.

On display are highlights including: A Panorama of Delhi by Mazhar ‘Ali Khan (1846). This five metre long painting showing a panorama of Delhi was drawn from the viewpoint of the southern exterior tower of the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort. This 360-degree overview provides a pictorial record of the local area and the Mughal city and palace complex just 10 years before many of the interior buildings were damaged or completely destroyed in the aftermath of the Uprising of 1857. Visitors will be able to see the palace as well as the Chandni Chowk, now a busy tourist drag.

Instructional poem for pigeon-fanciers by Valih Musavi (1788) Displayed for the first time is the ‘Book of Pigeons’ or Kabutarnama, containing two treatises on pigeons and their care and breeding. The first, in verse, has several illustrations. On the right hand page the foreground and background form separate scenes. One pigeon is drinking from a metal dish; behind are five more, two of which are ‘kissing’ on an urn. Another picture shows birds of various colours, and chicks in nesting-boxes. On the left page are two sets of white pigeons. The Mughal emperors, especially the later ones, were great fliers of pigeons and had pigeon-houses erected in the courtyards of the Red Fort.

Mid-17th century Mughal cavalryman and horse armour. On loan from the Royal Armouries is incredible Mughal armour for a cavalryman and horse. The cavalry wore mail and plate armour (zereh bagtar) with helmets (kolah zereh), and they also carried a cane shield (dhal), while their horses were often protected by mail and plate armour (bargustawan). They were armed with a sword and composite bow, and some additionally used a lance, mace (gurz) or saddle axe (tabarzin). The mail and plate coat is dated 1086 AH (1675/6). The helmet, body armour, horse armour and stirrups are all original armour.

The Notebook of Fragrance (1698) On display for the first time, this is the unique manuscript of a handbook on aspects of household management and activities, reflecting the more cultivated side of the Mughal lifestyle. In seventeen chapters the unknown author discusses subjects as diverse as recipes for perfumes and soaps; meals and drinks; arranging a house and garden; how to fit out a library; weights and measure; fireworks; and games of chance.It was intended for princes, great amirs, and senior administrators – including Hindus as well as Mughals – in Shah Jahan’s new imperial capital at Delhi.

Muhammad Shah making love (c. 1735). Muhammad Shah was known as ‘Rangila’ (pleasure-loving), and artists often depicted him celebrating festivals or displaying his exceptional skills as a sportsman. This provocative image of Muhammad Shah explicitly engaged in a sexual encounter sharply deviates from traditional portraits of emperors at leisure. By one of the most influential artists of period, it reveals the emperor’s illusions or confessional thoughts. Surely only the emperor himself could have directed such a portrayal.

The Ex-King of Delhi, Bahadur Shah II, awaiting trial (May 1858). This is the only documented photograph of Bahadur Shah (1775-1862), the last Mughal emperor. The photo was taken in May 1858, while the British held him in Delhi waiting his trial for his part in the Uprisings and shows the emperor reclining on a charpoy and smoking a hookah. It was, apparently, common practice for Europeans to visit the ex-ruler in captivity. In January 1859, Bahadur Shah was brought before a British military court and, after a trial lasting two months, was found guilty on 29 March 1859 of abetting the mutineers; he was later sentenced to exile in Rangoon, where he died in 1862.

Journal of the ambassador Sir Thomas Roe (c. 1616). Sir Thomas Roe’s was the first mission to achieve any diplomatic success for the British in Mughal India. As King James I’s ambassador acting for the East India Company he was presented to the emperor Jahangir in Ajmer on 10 January 1616. His journal entry for this date is displayed here. Roe travelled with Jahangir’s court to Mandu before taking his leave in 1618 having gained significant trading privileges. Roe found Jahangir ‘very merrie and joyfull’ and his diary gives a vivid account of life at court. This volume was copied for Roe by his secretary Edward Heynes in India.

Malini Roy, curator of the exhibition, comments: “We are so pleased to be displaying these stunning and rare manuscripts, paintings, and jewelled objects, shown together for the first time. The exhibition will give visitors a fascinating overview of a relatively little-known dynasty, displaying newly discovered royal portraits and manuscripts, as well as iconic artworks, such as the Panorama of Delhi. It is with great pleasure that we are able to share our collection’s beauty and these fantastic loaned objects with a wider audience.”

Mughal India is accompanied by an exciting programme of events, launching with Late at the Library: Mughal Nites, in association with South Asian Literature Festival, tomorrow evening, an extraordinary night of music, performance and spectacle. Joining DJ Ritu, hosting a Kuch Kuch party, will be British Library artist-in-residence Christopher Green, mehndi artists from Ash Kumar and dancers from Nutkut, weaving amongst installations, demonstrations, a bar and an Indian street food market. Other events will include speakers such as Pankaj Mishra, Mimi Khavati and William Dalrymple.

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, 9 November 2012 – 2 April 2013

Visit Exhibition Here


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