Magazine of art press and reviews from London
David Franchi, Sunday, 18th April 2016.
A glowing exhibition, “Bejewelled Treasures: the Al Thani Collection” was successful at the V&A Museum, London.
“Bejewelled Treasures” exhibited at the V&A Museum over one hundred exceptional pieces from the Al Thani collection, and three related objects lent by Her Majesty the Queen, from the Royal Collection, London.
The displayed jewels range in date from the early 17th century to the present days. They were made in the Indian subcontinent or inspired by India. They included spectacular jades made for Mughal emperors and a gold tiger-head finial from the throne of south Indian ruler Tipu Sultan. On show also objects from the collection of the Nizams of Hyderabad, together with interesting Cartier of the 20th century. There were also contemporary pieces made by JAR of Paris and Bhagat of Mumbai, combining Mughal inspiration and Art Deco influences.
The exhibition “Bejewelled Treasures” extended in five sections. The first was The Treasury which displayed the assets of India. From ancient times, the royal treasuries of India contained vast quantities of precious stones. Diamonds were found within the subcontinent, especially in Golconda. The best rubies were form Burma. Sri Lanka supplied sapphires. Being the great eastern market for gemstones, since the 16thcentury Goa have seen the arrival of emeralds from South Africa.
The second section, The Court, was about the Mughal rule, the Muslims emperors, and the Court of Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The Mughal rule had a lasting influence on the arts of the Indian subcontinent. The Muslims emperors, originally from Central Asia, were most powerful in the late 16th century and 17th century. They were modelled by Iranian culture and Persian literature, but also borrowed Hindu court convention. Outside the Mughal Empire, Tipu Sultan of Mysore was very distinctive, his treasure was made of tiger motifs and was looted by the East India Company when he was defeated and killed.
The third section, Kundan and Enamel, focused on this traditional style. Used in Indian jewellery, it was created in
the late 16th century by the goldsmiths of the Mughal court and it is still used today. It combines two different techniques which set ornaments and luxury artefacts with precious stones using highly refined, 24-carat gold, or kundan and enamel the back or the inner surface of ornaments.
The fourth section was Age of Transition. Due to political upheavals, during the 18th and early 19th century, production of traditional jewellery moved out of palace workshops and into commercial world. This section was focused on the impact of the British domination on India, for example the style changes of the production, which was influenced by the European, but also the commercial transformation following the construction of new routes, like the railways.
The last section was Contemporary Masters. Jewels of the Indian past continue to inspire designers of today. Here very interesting were two short films purposely made for Bejewelled Treasures: the Al Thani Collection exhibition. They were shot in workshops in Mumbai and Jaipur and together they illustrate the making of traditional enamelled Kundan Jewellery. Meaning pure refined gold, Kundan is extremely soft and malleable, enabling craftsmen to set stone using pressure only.
The first video was ‘Kundan Setting and making a hearing’ and showed this process – which is made of the following Making a Component, Engraving, Enamelling, Foiling the Diamond, Positioning the Diamond and Kundan Setting.
The second video ‘Polishing a diamond’ was about this technique and how to refine the stone.
The objects were drawn from the Al Thani collection, notable for the quality and size of its precious stones, both unmounted and set in jewellery. It is the private collection formed by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani.
The exhibition was curated by Susan Stronge, Senior Curator, Asia Department, V&A Museum, London, and follows Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al Thani Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curated by Navina Haidar, Curator, Islamic Art Department.
The exhibition is part of V&A Museum India Festival, a series of exhibitions, activities and events in Autumn 2015 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Nehru Gallery of Indian Art at the V&A.
Sponsor of “Bejewelled Treasures: the Al Thani Collection” was Wartski, which celebrated its 150 year anniversary by sponsoring this major exhibition of jewellery.
The exhibition “Bejewelled Treasures: the Al Thani Collection” was at the V&A Museum, London, from 21 November 2015 until 28 march 2016.