Turban ornament, India, c. 1900.
This exhibition explores the cultural and material exchanges between India and Europe through jewelry and precious objects ranging from the seventeenth century to the present. It features more than 150 pieces made in India or Europe associated with Mughal emperors, maharajas, and their courts. These objects include jewelry to be worn on ceremonial occasions, weapons such as swords and daggers, and precious works of art for display or use. Diamonds were at the center of this exchange, which, up until the mid-eighteenth century, were mined in India and then traded to Europe where they were often recut in sparkling new forms. European enameling on courtly jewels presented as diplomatic gifts inspired the Mughal courts from the sixteenth century to develop goldsmiths’ work decorated with enamel, a practice that continues in India to this day. In the twentieth century, the exchange ran in the opposite direction through Indian influences and gemstones that inspired the work of the great Parisian jewelry houses. Gender plays a significant role in this exhibition as, contrary to Western expectations, the most splendid jewelry was supplied exclusively for the male rulers of India. Furthermore, great pieces of jewelry conceived to adorn the queens of Europe, such as Catherine the Great of Russia or Empress Eugenie of France, could be happily worn by male maharajas in India.
(Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd., Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.)