India

The history of Islamic India goes back three centuries before the Mughal era (1526-1828). A variety of Muslim dynasties had ruled in northern India, bringing mainly Persian influences to the subcontinent. With the arrival of Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire, the stage was set for the most brilliant flowering of Islamic art in India. The ruling family was of Turkic and Mongol descent, and its most lasting contribution was a synthesis of Central Asian culture with that of India. The Mughals’ achievements were all-embracing. Every aspect of court life was beautified without restraint. They took as much interest in fashion as jewellery, and their architectural achievements remain unrivalled. The India Gallery provides a glimpse into the public and private worlds of the Mughals.

There are many features of Mughal art that diverge from the Islamic mainstream. The most obvious of these is a delight in portraiture. As well as revelling in figural representations, this dynasty pioneered a new approach to detail. The enduring fascination with these miniature paintings is partly due to their elegance, and also to the insights they provide into life as it was lived in those lavish times. Miniatures from this era are filled with images of rulers, courtiers and horses, along with useful vignettes of fashion and interior design.

As jewel-like as their paintings are, Mughal arms and armour took the theme one stage further. Rarely have weapons seen the sort of embellishment that came so effortlessly to the Mughals. In keeping with their Central Asian ancestry, they had a special affection for jade. This was used on countless dagger hilts, often with a liberal application of gems and gold inlay.
Jade had uses other than for weapons. Much of the finest Mughal jewellery was made from one variety of this semi-precious stone, known to science as nephrite. This comes in many shades, from luminous white to the densest spinach green. For jewellery, a pale green tone was popular. The same shade was also favoured for a variety of domestic items that matched the imperial lifestyle.

Court life demanded an impressive array of vessels and other types of tableware. Instead of ceramics, the Islamic tradition of metalworking was taken to an unmatched level of opulence. Gilded silver, brass, enamels and jewel-inlaid gold were commonly used for objects that in other parts of the Islamic world might have been treated to no more than a little silver inlay on brass. At a less extravagant level, there was the 16th-century Indian invention known as bidriware. This inlay of silver into a base-metal alloy embodies the Mughal tradition of flamboyance with a solid core of quality.

Gallery Highlights

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Flywhisk’s hair holder
Mughal, India
18th century AD / 12th century AH

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Indo-Portuguese Ewer
Gujarat, India
17th century AD / 11th century AH

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Powder Horn
India
17th century AD / 11th century AH

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A scholarly discussion
Mughal, India
1660 AD / 1770 AH

New Acquisition

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Diamond-Set And Enamelled Gold Necklace (Khanti)
North India
1850-1875 AD / 1266-1292 AH

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Rock-Crystal Hookah Base
North India or Deccan
19th century AD / 16th century AH