Some of the finest Indian works of art from the Royal Collection are to go on display in Scotland for the first time in more than 130 years.
The new exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–6 tells the story of the historic visit made by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) at the end of the 19th century, through works of art presented to the Prince as part of the traditional exchange of gifts.
In October 1875, the Prince of Wales set off on a four-month tour of the Indian Subcontinent, visiting over 21 localities, which today encompass India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal. Preceding the declaration of his mother, Queen Victoria, as the Empress of India, the visit sought to establish personal links with the local rulers and strengthen ties between the subcontinent and the British Crown.
Travelling nearly 7,600 miles by land and 2,300 miles by sea, the Prince met more than 90 rulers of the different regions he visited, and was presented with some of the finest examples of Indian design and craftsmanship, including jewellery, ceremonial arms, and gold and silverware. Recognising the cultural value and artistic merit of the gifts he had received, on his return to Britain, the Prince made arrangements for the items to be placed on public display.
Entitled The Prince of Wales’s India Collection, the exhibition toured Britain and Europe between 1876 and 1883 to allow as many people as possible to view the extraordinary works from the Subcontinent. The display opened at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) and then travelled to museums across the UK, including in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, York and Nottingham, and also further afield to Paris and Copenhagen. The newspapers of the time encouraged the Victorian public to visit the exhibition, and by the end of 1883 the gifts had been seen by more than two million people in Britain alone.
Similarly, Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–6, which has been developed in collaboration with Cartwright Hall, Bradford, and New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester, has offered the opportunity to view these magnificent works in the North of England and the East Midlands in 2017, before it opens in Scotland.
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 (modernday 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 Mangal Singh, Maharaja of Alwar, 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.
Celebrating the long-standing relationship between the UK and India and the vibrant cultural history of the region, the exhibition forms part of the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture, a year-long programme of events led by the British Council, in cooperation with the Indian High Commission.