“Mughal India: Art, Culture & Empire” Comes To New Delhi

Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart discusses the British Library’s exhibition now on display in New Delhi.

New York:  This winter, the British Library has brought its exhibition “Mughal India: Art, Culture & Empire” to New Delhi. This show provides an amazing opportunity for pieces that are usually hidden in the depths of the library collection to be shown to the public for the very first time. Originally established in Britain, and then later in Kabul, Afghanistan, this collection is a strong representation of Mughal art history. The New Delhi exhibition is produced by Roli Books in conjunction with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts alongside the original curatorial team from the British Library. It will offer an opportunity for this period in Indian history to be told in a beautiful and informative way. 

The exhibition consists of paintings and alluringly illustrated manuscripts, most commissioned by the Mughal emperors and other important figureheads of the time. These pieces contribute an illustrative history of the Mughal Empire. Each piece contributes a beautiful crafted depiction of upperclass life at this point in history. Scenes of court gatherings, hunting, royal portraiture and Indian landscapes are all shown with picturesque detail. The emblematic quality of these images is rich. Each piece has a wealth of historical knowledge and narrative, even in a single image. In addition to these scenes, very rare books and manuscripts are featured in the exhibition including “Book of Affairs of Love” by Rai Anand Ram Mukhlis and “Notebook of Fragrance” by Shah Jahan. Because the British Library is not a museum with continual exhibitions, many of these pieces are rarely seen or displayed. Not only does this collection contribute to our overall knowledge of the cultural setting of Mughal India it also shows the worldview during this time period. Pivotal historical documents such as the first Indian atlas, a city map of Delhi and a trade route from Delhi to Qandahar are included.

This exhibition is a beautiful and informative retelling of the history of Mughal India. To learn more about events and publications associated with this exhibition please view the British Library website here.

Dr Malini Roy Introduces Indian Miniature Paintings at Saffronart

Elisabetta Marabotto shares a note on the talk by Dr. Malini Roy’s at Saffronart in London

Dr Malini Roy at Saffronart, London

Dr. Malini Roy at Saffronart, London

London: Last Wednesday, before Saffronart’s preview for its Auction of Indian Miniature Paintings and Works of Art, which will be held on 24-25 April, Dr. Malini Roy, the Visual Art Curator at the British Library, gave an overview on Indian paintings produced between the 15th and 19th century, which are also known as miniature paintings.

Dr Malini Roy and a packed house at Saffronart, London

Dr. Malini Roy speaks to a packed house at Saffronart, London

Although giving a brief overview of this topic is almost impossible, given the vast amount of material, the long span of time, and the wide geographical area it encompasses, Roy managed to examine the key sites where Indian painting flourished, their purposes and patronage.

First, 15th century Hindu and Jain manuscripts were taken into account, leading to the famous Mughal paintings which mainly developed in Agra, Delhi and Lahore. These included representations of the great Mughal conquerors, illustrations of Indian and Persian epics, and depictions of Indian flora and fauna.

Lot 1, Two Leaves from a manuscript of Firdousi's Shanama

Lot 1, Two Leaves from a manuscript of Firdousi’s Shanama. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8335

After the great schools of Mughal art, Indian painting in the Deccan area was discussed. There, portraiture was one of the most popular themes which showed both Mughal and Dutch influences.

Lot 3, A Portrait of a Princess

Lot 3, A Portrait of a Princess. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8337

Compared to Mughal and Deccani paintings, Rajasthani paintings are more difficult to classify because of the many courts producing art using disparate styles of which Mewar was the most prolific. However, at the beginning the Rajasthani School was influenced by 15th and 16th century Hindu and Jain paintings, but slowly moved to illustrating Indian epics, Hindi poetical works and portraying Rajput rulers.

Lot 4, An Illustration from a Poetic Album, Possibly the Sarangadharapaddhati

Lot 4, An Illustration from a Poetic Album, Possibly the Sarangadharapaddhati. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8338

The paintings from the Punjab Hills, drawing elements from both Mughal and Rajasthani traditions, traditionally focus on topics such as the great Indian epics and portraiture. These paintings were often inscribed in languages that are now difficult to read.

Lot 15, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman worshiped by a Sikh Ruler, Punjab Hills

Lot 15, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman worshiped by a Sikh Ruler, Punjab Hills. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8349

Lastly, Company Paintings, which developed during the British presence in India, were mentioned. This school is renowned for the adaptation of European style and the production for European patronage and the market there. Illustrations depicting Indian trades and occupations were made as well as natural history drawings representing Indian flora and fauna. Despite the uniformity in the themes represented, the artistic styles differed from region to region.

You can view some great examples of these schools of painting on the Saffronart website and in the Saffronart gallery in London.

Here’s a recording of Dr. Malini Roy’s entire talk:

Exploring Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire at the British Library

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart in conversation with Malini Roy, curator of the current Mughal exhibition at the British Library, London

Mughal India Art, Culture and Empire, British Library, London

Mughal India Art, Culture and Empire, British Library, London

London: On display at the British Library until April 2013, ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’ celebrates the Mughal empire for the first time in its entirety, from its beginning to its eventual decline (1526-1858).

The exhibition, divided thematically, explores the rich cultural heritage the Mughals left  in the fields of art, architecture, literature and science, and it also celebrates the patrons that made these innovations and discoveries possible.

I had the pleasure of meeting Malini Roy at the British Library and asking her few questions about the exhibition.

Malini Roy, Curator of Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, British Library, London

Malini Roy, Curator of Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, British Library, London

Q: The exhibition Mughal India covers the entire Mughal period for the first time. Why did you decide to cover the entire period and not just focus on a certain aspect or time frame?

A: I decided to focus on the whole Mughal Period because no one really looks at the entire period. Also, my interest and research is on the late Mughal Period and I wanted to include it in this exhibition and the British Library has an extensive collection covering the entire period.

Q: How many works are on display? What is their provenance?

A: There are circa two-hundred works on display. Most of them are from the British Library Collection, the rest are from institutions and museums’ collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the British Museum (London), the Royal Asiatic Society (London), the Bodleian Library (Oxford), the India Office Library Collection (London) and the Royal Collection (Windsor).

Q: What are the highlights of the exhibition? What is the most significant work for you?

A: There are many highlights of the exhibition [which you can enjoy in the slideshow at the end of the interview] so it is quite difficult to choose a few. Personally I really like “A Panorama of  Delhi by Mazhar ‘Ali Khan”. It is an impressive five meter long painting showing the Delhi panorama drawn from the view point of the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort. Also, the playful “Squirrels in a Plane Tree” is one of my favourite works.

A Panorama of Delhi by Mazhar 'Ali Khan. Image Credit: © The British Library Board

A Panorama of Delhi by Mazhar ‘Ali Khan. Image Credit: © The British Library Board

Squirrels in a plane tree. Image Credit: © The British Library Board

Squirrels in a plane tree. Image Credit: © The British Library Board

Q: At the beginning of the year the Ashmolean Museum presented ‘Visions of Mughal India: The collection of Howard Hodgkin’, and the Fondazione Roma Museo is currently showing: ‘Akbar: The Great Emperor of India’. Now the British Library is hosting ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’. It is evident that there is a great interest in Mughal India. What is your opinion on this?

A: The interest in Mughal art and culture has been constant. It is one of the most celebrated periods of Indian history. However the last exhibition dedicated to the entire Mughal Period dates 1982 and was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum: ‘The Indian Heritage: Court Life and Arts under Mughal Rule’. So we wanted to remind people of our collection of Mughal miniatures and show these fine works of art.

Q: To whom is this exhibition directed? How many visitors are you expecting? How has the response been so far?

A: Traditionally, British Library exhibitions attract traditional museum visitors. However we have had a quite diverse audience so far, many art and primary school students came to see the exhibition. The response has been very positive, we had very positive reviews from newspapers, art magazines  and the exhibition is listed as one of top exhibitions at the moment in London. And we are definitely meeting our target with an average of 360 visitors per day.

Q: What is the main message behind this exhibition?

A: I wanted to showcase the wonderful collection the British Library has and that people don’t know about and also celebrate some the greatest patrons of Indian art and architecture that created some of finest artworks which still witness their grandeur. Also since now the interest seems to be more on modern and contemporary Indian art I wanted to bring the Mughals back under the spot light.

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire is definitely a must see if you are in London. The exhibition will make you experience traditional Mughal life during your visit and educate you through superb works of art.

More information on the exhibition can be found on the British Library website. Below you can enjoy a slideshow of highlights from the exhibition.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dr. Malini Roy is the Curator of Visual Arts at the British Library. Her field of research focuses on later Mughal painting and Company paintings produced during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in the provinces of Awadh and Bengal as well as at the Mughal capital of Delhi.


%d bloggers like this: