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Two very different exhibitions, both celebrating the splendours of the Indian subcontinent — from Mughal paintings, to jewellery and elaborate weaponry — both at The Queen’s Gallery.
Not entirely unsurprisingly, the Royal Collection has an awful lot of objects from the Empire, and two very different collections have gone on display.
One half is devoted to a tour by the then Prince of Wales in 1876, and the many gifts he brought back to the UK. The various leaders he met had been told to only offer modest gifts, as there was concern that the gifts from the poorer Royal Family wouldn’t match their subcontinent hosts lavish hospitality.
As it happens, the hosts ignored the request, and gave some of their finest local craftsmanship — in part to flatter, and in part to show off local trades to the UK, for export.
When the Prince came back to the UK, many of the gifts were put on display for the public to see and admire Indian crafts, and to inspire British craftsmen to excel at their work.
The two rooms given over to the jeweled gifts is are rich in decoration as befits a monarch, from the pseudo-crown to the tiny military figurines, reputedly commissioned by the Raja of Peddapuram who was advised to review his troops each day, so had models made of them instead.
The main display though is given over to, what we might call illuminations, the extraordinary paintings that were put inside books for the monarchs of the time.
Much like medieval European Bibles, these paintings were instructive, and not designed to be seen by the average person. This exhibition has taken them from a huge book and put them on public display for the very first time.
Also instructive is a painting of the decapitation of Khan Jahan Lodi, which is gruesome in detail, right down to the little flies around the decapitated head.
Also on display are a series of books from Queen Victoria’s own collection, noting her own lessons in learning Urdu so that she could greet visitors from the subcontinent in their own language.
She was by all accounts, quite good at it.
Also on display is a famous photograph of the Delhi Durbar of 1911, where King George V and Queen Mary received homage in India. It looks like a panorama, but in fact is three separate photos stuck together, so the King and Queen appear three times in the photo.
Three times the monarchy for the price of one.
The exhibition, Splendours of the Subcontinent is at the Queen’s Gallery until 14th October. Entry is £12 per adult, and tickets can be valid for a year, so you can go back for the next two exhibitions as well.
This article first appeared on www.ianvisits.co.uk
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