Dazzling Indian objects from the Royal Collection to go on display in a new touring exhibition

Wednesday 25th May 2016 12:04 EDT

Some of the finest Indian treasures from the Royal Collection will go on display in a new Royal Collection Trust exhibition (launched on 25 May) that tells the story of the grand tour of the Subcontinent made by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) at the end of the 19th century. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince's Tour of India 1875–76 has been developed in collaboration with Cartwright Hall, Bradford, and New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester.

In October 1875, the Prince of Wales set off on a four-month tour, visiting over 21 localities, which today encompass India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal. Travelling nearly 7,600 miles by land and 2,300 miles by sea, he met over 90 rulers of the different regions he visited. Preceding the declaration of his mother, Queen Victoria, as the Empress of India, his visit sought to establish personal links with the local rulers and strengthen ties between the subcontinent and the British Crown.

The exhibition tells the story of the tour through watercolours, photographs and 74 exquisite works of art that were presented to the Prince as part of the traditional exchange of gifts. Many of these items were precious heirlooms from the rulers' toshakhanas, or personal treasuries, while others were specially commissioned from local artisans.

The Prince recognised the cultural value and artistic merit of the gifts he had received. On his return to Britain, he made arrangements for the items to be placed on public display, first at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), and later in Paris and at museums across the UK, including in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, York and Nottingham. The newspapers of the time encouraged the Victorian public to see these extraordinary works of art, which were commended for their design and craftsmanship.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • An exquisite gold enamelled and diamond-set ink stand in the form of a State Barge, presented during the Prince's visit to the holy Hindu city of Benares (modern day Varanasi). The Prince had sailed four miles down the River Ganges on a similar vessel to meet Ishwari Prasad Narayan Singh, the Maharaja of Benares at the Palace of Ramnagar.
  • A Service of State, or durbar set, presented to the Prince during his visit to the city of Mysore (modern day Mysuru) in the southern state of Karnataka. Made of gold and engraved with floral decoration, it comprises plates, trays, spice boxes, an attardan (perfume holder) and a pandan (betel-nut holder) – objects associated with welcoming guests to an Indian court.
  • A spectacular enamelled gold plate and attardan, from the city of Jaipur in the northern state of Rajasthan. The plate, which is decorated with bands of floral and foliate patterns, and images of animals and palaces, was at its time of creation the largest ever produced in Jaipur enamel and reportedly took four years to make. Adorned with hanging pearls, the intricately decorated attardan opens like a lotus flower to reveal the perfume cup and cover.
  • A pair of morchals (flywhisks), presented by Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur. They are constructed of peacock feathers, inlaid with diamonds and set with layered bands of gold tinsel. Morchals were an integral part of the spectacle of a durbar (Indian court) during which court attendants fanned the ruler.
  • A set of small brass military figures, presented to the Prince during his visit to Madras in South India. All individually sculpted, the figures reflect the different nationalities of soldiers, such as the African mercenaries and European infantryman, who served in the regional armies of South India. They were reportedly created for Timma Razu, the 18th-century Raja of Peddapuram, on the advice of his astrologer, so he could review his troops daily without bloodshed.
  • A beautifully ornamented dagger, presented by Jashwant Singh, Maharaja of Bharatpur, with an enamelled and bejewelled handle and a scabbard with a blade filled with loose seed pearls.
  • A dazzling sirpech (turban ornament) made of three large emeralds and bordered by bands of bright red enamel and diamonds. The sirpech came from the treasury of Sajjan Singh, Maharaja of Udaipur.

    Leicester Councillor Piara Singh Clair MBE, Assistant City Mayor, Culture, Leisure and Sport, said, ‘I am delighted that this important exhibition will be coming to Leicester next summer to have pride of place in our flagship New Walk Museum & Art Gallery. Not only are the objects to be shown beautiful and fascinating, but they have an important story to tell about Britain and its longstanding relationship with the Subcontinent. I am sure that people from both our diverse city and further afield will find much to inspire and reflect upon.’

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