Ipshita Sen of Saffronart explores some of the mysticism attached to the ruby fruit.
New York: The pomegranate is very often associated with the term “ Fruit of Paradise” or “The Fruit of the Underworld”, or more simply, “The Seeded Apple”. Enveloped in mystery and years of folklore, the pomegranate is one of the most admired fruits. Tales of the fruit, whether in Christianity, Judaism or Greek mythology are spread across diverse cultures throughout the world. Every culture seems to have evolved with a passing reference to the vitality of this rich fruit.
A walk through history, uncovers the significance of the pomegranate across diverse cultures and religions. Ancestors were aware of the health benefits and the juicy fruit is depicted on several paintings and historic writings.
In Christianity, the fruit is symbolic of Christ’s resurrection and defines immortality. Baby Jesus holding a pomegranate is a common sight and is seen depicted in both paintings and devotional statues. In medieval legends, the pomegranate tree is a symbol of fertility and a vital aspect in the hunt of the magical creature, the unicorn. Tapestries from the period depict images of wounded unicorn’s bleeding pomegranate arils.
The pomegranate is also a significant fruit in Judaism. The seeds are meant to signify sanctity, fertility and abundance. The fruit is one of the seven sacred fruits mentioned in the Holy Bible. Illustrations of this popular fruit are also seen in Judaic architecture and couture design for the Jewish kings and priests. In China and Japan, the fruit invokes fertility and prosperity.
Based on early excavations of the Bronze Age, it is studied that the pomegranate was the first ever fruit to be excavated. The fruit is believed to be native to Iran and the Himalayan region of Northern India and then later cultivated across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Emily Jane Cushing shares a note on a talk given by Wynyard Wilkinson at Saffronart in London
Wynyard Wilkinson introducing the evenings event.
London: On Wednesday 15 May, before the preview of the new Saffronart exhibition ‘Silver From the Indian Sub-Continent 1858-1947’ author and Antique silver specialist Wynyard Wilkinson held an informative discussion on the decorative nature of the silver articles on display.
Despite the many aspects of silver production during the colonial period in India, given the diverse nature of decorative designs varying from region to region, Wilkinson touched on all the key styles. He noted the aesthetic features and purposes of various pieces, and underlined the relationships between geographical areas and designs, also noting that various regional designs often inter-link.
First, Madras “Swami Ware” was taken in to account. Wilkinson noted that despite the fact that ‘swami’ designs exhibited fine and intricately detailed ornamentation of Hindu deities and mythological figures, the style was a huge success in Europe and Great Britain. The most frequently depicted deities in this genre are Vishnu and Brahma riding their vahanas, or associated animals.
After the Madras region, the discussion turned to Cutch silver, known for its attractive patterns of scrolling foliage intertwined with animals, birds and hunting scenes. The Cutch style was the most venerated Indian silverware in the late 19th century. Wilkinson particularly noted the resemblances to 17th century Portuguese pottery decorations, and distinctive similarities in the depiction of animal and bird figures with Persian decoration.
Next, Wilkinson focused on Kashmiri silver, highlighting the shawl pattern in particular. Taking inspiration from the prevalent Kashmiri weaving industry, this pattern illustrates vines of blossoms and leaves amid and between flowing scrolls; these scrolls sometimes lack detailing as to accentuate the distinction between the floral and the scroll aspects of the pattern.
Wilkinson then moved on to silverware produced in Lucknow. Designs from this region are most commonly recognized for their use of two patterns, the ‘jungle’ and the ‘hunting’ pattern. These patterns feature, although not to scale, forests of palm trees containing both animal and male figures, and bold male figures on elephant back pursuing wild animals or competing in sporting activities.
The eclectic diversity of the silversmithing in Bombay, as a result of immigrant artisans from many regions of India who brought with them a wide range of design and decorative influences, was also discussed. Wilkinson noted, when discussing specific pieces, the use of domestic picture design by Bombay artisans, as a conscious move away from Cutch style foliage designs.
To conclude his informative talk, Wynyard Wilkinson drew the audience’s attention to two unique oversize examples of Indian colonial silverware on display. First, a large hand-rinsing fountain produced in Cutch in 1910, and, second, a voluminous two-handled vase crafted in Madras in 1890.
Josheen Oberoi briefly explores the signs and meaningsembedded in ancient Indian Jina sculptures
New York: Jainism, one of the oldest faiths in India, is defined by its commitment to non-violence and a self-directed effort to attain enlightenment. The ‘Supreme Beings’ who achieve this state of liberation and assist others in the process are called Jinas (victors) or Tirthankaras. There are said to have been twenty four Jinas in Jainism, the last of whom, Vardhamana Mahavira, is possibly the most widely known among non practitioners of Jainism.
However, when it comes to the arts and representation in Jainism there is a rich history of sculptures of many of the Jinas, replete with symbolism relating to their positions, accompanying objects, and their meaning.
Jina Parsvanatha Object: Sculpture Place of origin: Garsoppa, India (probably, made) Date: 12th century (made) Materials and Techniques: Black shale Museum number: 931(IS) Image courtesy: Victoria and Albert Museum
Two similar sculptures from different time periods are wonderful examples of Jina Parsvanathas and their symbolism. This beautiful 12th century sculpture (on the left) from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection in London represents the twenty third Jina Parsvanatha, who is revered as a great teacher and is one of four Jinas most often portrayed in Jain art. A similar sculpture in the ongoing Indian Antiquities auction conducted by Collectibles Antiques India and powered by Saffronart is from the 11th century, created during the rule of the Hoysala Dynasty. It is a distinctive work from a time period rarely seen in private hands; most works from this Dynasty are in museums or preserved at heritage sites.
Parsvanatha lived in the 8th century BC. He was the son of King Ashvasena and Queen Vamanadevi of Varanasi who renounced the world at the age of thirty to become an ascetic. He attained absolute knowledge and became the twenty-third Tirthankara or Jina in Jainism and is associated with the color blue and a seven hooded serpent.
The Jina fact file on the Victoria & Albert Museum website allows us as viewers to read the sculpture as well. Jinas are always shown in either a padmasana (seated) or kayotsarga (standing) position. The two Jina Parsvanathas in discussion here are standing; the immobility and discipline required is considered a form of severe penance and asceticism.
The three tiered umbrella at the top of the sculpture is a symbol of the Jina’s spiritual sovereignty, while the seven headed snake, Dharanendra, protects the Jina with his coils and a canopy over his head. Jinas, like those in these two sculptures, are the only Jain figures shown unclothed as a sign of their absolute enlightenment and rejection of all materialism. They are often flanked by guardian spirits called yakshas and yakshis, positioned in these sculptures by the feet of the Jina.
The strength of the physical body and the powerful features in the sculpture above is distinctive of the Hoysala Dynasty, which oversaw great developments in architecture and classically modeled sculptures during its rule.
You can hear some interesting ideas about the importance of the seven hooded serpent and the significance of the standing position in context of the Jina Parsvanatha in the collection of the V&A Museum here.
Mumbai: India has always been a regarded as one of the most important centres of textile art and production in the world. Treasured by royalty in India and exported to countries ranging from Western Europe to South East Asia, India’s textile traditions date back almost 3000 years.
The TAPI Collection of Indian textiles, put together by collectors Shilpa and Praful Shah, was initially envisioned as a resource for design and a celebration of the rich heritage of textile traditions in India. Since the 1980s, when it was started, it has grown into one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of historic Indian textiles in the world.
Textile collectors Praful & Shilpa Shah
TAPI is an acronym that stands for ‘Textiles & Art of the People of India’, but also pays homage to the Tapi River, which serves as the ‘life force’ of the textile town of Surat in Gujarat, where the collection is based. The TAPI collection includes textiles from Mughal and provincial royal courts, textiles from the 15th to 19th centuries that were specifically produced for export markets, folk textiles, historic regional embroidery, and important religious textiles. Exhibitions of select pieces from the collection have been held at the National Museum in Delhi, the Birla Academy of Fine Art in Kolkata, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum), among other institutions. The collection has also collaborated on several seminal publications on Indian textile art.
I recently got the opportunity to speak with Shilpa Shah about the TAPI Collection, and specifically about its holdings of Kashmiri shawls, on which the collection’s most recent publication is based.
NA: Could you tell us a little about the origins of the TAPI Collection? What drew you and Praful to begin this journey, and what are some of the most initial pieces you acquired?
SS: Praful hails from a textile making family, so it was not very surprising that we were drawn to the distinctive and vastly diverse textile traditions of our country, whether woven or dyed, printed, painted, tie-dyed or ikat. Every region of India had – and still has – its own unique textile tradition. When Praful returned from Stanford University to join the family textile factory in the late 1960s, his first step was to set up the textile design studio and printery. I was a history buff so when we got married, our interest naturally developed into a curiosity about our textile past. This may seem ironical because we were otherwise involved in making modern, machine-made, non-traditional textiles for the contemporary, urban consumer. But these designs helped as inspiration to the textile artists.
Our first acquisitions in fact were Kashmir shawls. We began collecting shawls in the 1970s. Kashmir’s ‘kani’ shawl weaving had virtually come to an end by the 1870s, so by the 1970s, the shawls already represented over a hundred-year old antiquity.
One of the first few Kashmir shawls acquired by Praful & Shilpa in the 1970’s (TAPI COLLECTION)
Kashmir Shawl butas are an unending source of inspiration for textile designers (TAPI COLLECTION)
NA: The core of the collection comprises Indian textiles produced specifically for various export markets. What are some of the interesting cultural and economic exchanges that these textiles reveal?
SS: From earliest times, Indian textiles have been an essential medium of exchange in east-west trade. The earliest textiles in our collection were made in Gujarat for export to South-East Asia for trade with the spice islands of Indonesia. Several of these remarkable cloths date to the 14th and 15th century, with a few as early as the 13th century. This means that they were imported into maritime South-East Asia well before the arrival of the European travellers and merchant companies in the Indian Ocean world. As such early textiles have not survived in India, these cloths represent a particular strength of the TAPI collection. Cloths made in India for export were made with native skills catering to foreign taste. This resulted in textiles and patterns that were quite different from those made for the domestic markets in India. Among these we have examples of 16th century embroidered quilts from Bengal made for the Portuguese market, 17th century embroideries from Cambay for the English market and chintzes from the Coromandel Coast made for the Dutch, English and French markets.
The elephant patolu from Gujarat was among the most prized textiles exported to South-East Asia. (TAPI COLLECTION)
NA: The latest publication that you have collaborated on focuses on Kashimiri shawls, another strength of the collection. What is the significance of these shawls in India’s textile history? Were they also exported?
SS: From Mughal emperors to the aristocracy of northern India, Bengal and the Deccan, the Kashmir shawl remained a coveted article of male winter fashion till the 19th century. By the 20th century, many of these shawls were cut up to make fashionable ladies’ shawls. The love of shawls runs in the veins of all northerners, an aspect which escapes most of us warm-weather west-coasters. Kashmir shawls have been recognised the world over as the single most prized textile from the Indian subcontinent. The exquisite delicacy of design and lightness, warmth and softness of the pashmina wool has given the Kashmir shawl the cachet it has.
Qatraaz or striped shawls were in high demand in Persia, (TAPI COLLECTION)
From the second half of the 18th century, Kashmir shawls became fashionable as shoulder mantles in Western Europe. Queen Victoria owned a fair number for her personal use and for presenting as gifts. Empress Josephine, records tell us, is said to have possessed about sixty Kashmir shawls. Emperor Napoleon I gave 17 shawls to his bride Marie-Louise. Attempts to imitate the Kashmir shawl’s patterns and textures began both in England and France. Within fifty years, the jacquard loom shawl rode the market and threatened the export of Kashmir shawl to Europe altogether. What survived of this trade is the immortal, unforgotten motif called the ‘paisley’, the buta’s international avatar, indispensably sought-after by silk-designers the world over.
‘Madame Panckoucke’ by Ingres, 1811, draped with a striped Kashmir shawl. (Photo courtesy: Musée du Louvre, Paris)
NA: What are some of the other strengths of the TAPI Collection? Can you share some of your personal favourites from the collection?
SS: That is a difficult question for a collector. One cannot be honest about it. Each object has its own place in the collection. When a particular piece is acquired, it attaches itself strongly upon the collector – till the next great piece comes along. Each specimen has its moment as a favourite.
Palledar Shawl, c. 1720 (detail) (TAPI COLLECTION)
NA: The TAPI Collection was initially founded as a resource for design. Can you tell us about how the collection has influenced current textile art in India? Are there any specific projects that highlight such exchanges between the traditional and the contemporary?
SS: The marriage of the two – the past and the new – takes place on a day to day basis. Motifs like a particular paisley from the past serves only as an inspiration. The form the paisley buta takes may be enlarged many times over, or elongated or twisted with the addition of other floral element into it to make it modern and contemporary. It is not how radically the motif has morphed but how it has remained as a source of inspiration to the textile design. When we see a textile of the past, don’t forget that it too was considered modern at that time. Conversely, motifs from Mohenjo-Daro appear modern to us today.
Reversible ‘Dorukha’ shawls were coveted by the elite of India. (TAPI COLLECTION)
The book, Kashmir Shawls – The TAPI Collection, authored by internationally reputed textile scholars Steven Cohen, Rosemary Crill, Monique Lévi-Strauss and Jeffrey B. Spurr, will be released by fashion designer and author Wendell Rodricks at Saffronart on December 7, 2012.
Josheen Oberoi of Saffronart explores the stunning new galleries of Islamic art at the Met, a few centuries at a time.
New York: This is the last in a series of posts that came out of my visit to the Islamic Art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and a consequent conversation with Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar, an Associate Curator in the Department of Islamic Art there. This art collection is presented in fifteen new galleries that opened to the public after an eight year renovation in November last year.
The galleries are titled Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. Dr. Ekhtiar, in speaking of the nomenclature of the collections, said, “the name of the galleries speaks to the parameters of our collection, our department’s collection”. Instead of the overarching phrase “Islamic Art” that suggests a monolithic construction of an Islamic culture; this title is in fact a clue to the physical and historical reconfiguration of these galleries, and a particularly apt one in these times of misleading narratives of Islam worldwide.
Through the course of my conversation with Dr. Ekhtiar we walked chronologically through the numbered galleries (Galleries 450 – 464) that are organized by geographical regions and time periods (from ca. 7th century AD through ca. 20th century). I have followed the same chronology here, bringing us today to the last two galleries 463 and 464 showing Mughal and later South Asian art.
Here’s the very useful museum map again, to help follow the information:
Floor Plan of New Galleries
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
We haven’t discussed South Asia previously but the time period (16th – 20th centuries) that we will look at today is contemporary to the arts of Safavids and later Iran and the overlap and exchange of culture is visible in the artistic forms of the time as well. Gallery 463, for example, presents the arts of the Sultanate, Mughal and Deccan courts from about 1450 through the nineteenth century. This gallery contains an extensive selection of jeweled arts that were practiced in South Asia, including jade carving (which was highly prized in China and was part of a commercial exchange with it). But like in Gallery 462, the two object forms that immediately capture attention are the carpets and the illustrated manuscripts’ folios.
The scrolling vegetal designs that we saw in last week’s post are visible in the image on the left as well. The carpet below, on the other hand, with a niche that nestles a flowering plant, appears to be designed vertically and possibly for hanging on the wall rather than laying on the ground.
Interestingly, these styles remained active in the Iranian and South Asian regions. The early 20th century example below, from a Saffronart auction in March this year displays a combination of these design details – the visible Arabesque niche in the carpet is occupied by intricate and delicate flora and fauna, surrounded by a border.
Illustrated manuscripts, similarly, remained an active part of the region through the 20th century as indicated by the folios on display in this gallery and in Gallery 464. Akbar, considered the greatest Mughal rulers (r. 1556 – 1605), established royal ateliers and commissioned illustrated manuscripts, including the Akbarnama that was a chronicle of his reign.
His successors Jahangir (r. 1605-27) and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) continued this patronage,an example of which is the exquisite Padshahnama, or the Shah Jahan Album illustrated through the 1640s. These reigns saw a diversity of manuscript production that included Indian, Persian and European elements (like linear perspective and European motifs). A few of the folios shown below evidence this multitude of subjects like studies of animals, flora and fauna, portraiture,mythological narratives that were produced simultaneously at that time. It also underlines the development of a unique idiom within the South Asian region in the arts of the book both linking it to and distinguishing it from the Safavid and later Iran workshops.
Madonna and Child in a Domestic Interior Painting by Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) Object Name: Illustrated single work Date: early 17th century Geography: India Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Black Buck”, Folio from the Shah Jahan Album Painting attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) Object Name: Album leaf Reign: Jahangir (1605–27), recto Date: recto: ca. 1615-20; verso: ca. 1530–50 Geography: India Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Adventures of Hamza or the Hamzanama was another narrative commissioned by Akbar that recounted the stories of Hamza, an uncle of Prophet Mohammad.
“Misbah the Grocer Brings the Spy Parran to his House”, Folio from a Hamzanama (The Adventures of Hamza) Attributed to Dasavanta Artist: Attributed to Mithra Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript Reign: Akbar (1556–1605) Date: ca. 1570 Geography: India Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Both Galleries 463 and 464 also have folios from the Islamic Deccan courts and later 19th century court arts of the Jain, Rajput, Pahari and “Company” style paintings. These are placed in conjunction with the Islamic art galleries to accurately represent the continuum of South Asian art, not compartmentalized by religion. There was a rich dialog between the two contemporaneous traditions that is visible throughout these galleries.
For example, the image below on the left, of a nobleman on a terrace is an 18th century folio from a late Islamic Mughal center in Bengal, and on display in these galleries. The image on the right, from a Saffronart auction in April this year is the portrait of a Hindu Bikaneri maharaja. Such cross currents in portraiture, amongst other subjects, is a constant in these artistic traditions.
Portrait of a Maharaja Late 17th Century Bikaner School
Nobleman on a Terrace Object Name: Illustrated single work Date: ca. 1780 Geography: India, Murshidabad Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ragamala paintings, also available for viewing, are a pictorial narrative mode for musical notes (ragas) that originated in the Islamic Deccan kingdoms but found their way to the ateliers of princely states in Rajasthan.
And finally, the “Company” school paintings, shown in Gallery 464 often documented the flora, fauna, topography and people of the land. These watercolors were commissioned by the British and executed by Indian painters in a European style.
Chronologically the last space in the newly configured galleries that we have been visiting over the last few posts, Gallery 464 can also be physically entered and understood independent of the remaining galleries.However, that is true of any of the fifteen galleries. Choosing your personal path through these spaces engenders a distinct experience each time.
Text (calligraphy), shapes (geometric, vegetal, figural, flora, fauna, zoomorphic), materials (ceramic, wood, metals, paper, textile), techniques (luster-painted, gilded, enameled, painted, carved), objects (utilitarian, luxurious, decorative, religious) – these are just a few of the forms that can be conceptually and visually followed through these galleries. Recurring, in various ways, in various objects, they tell a story of a cultural continuum, not an overarching structure – this is a testament to the impeccably curated experience of these new galleries.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this ride with me. The Saffronart blog hopes to keep taking you along for more of these!