EXHIBIT AT THE SACKLER TO PRESENT ISLAMIC AND INDIAN PAINTINGS FROM ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTIONS IN THE WORLD
Released: April 29, 1998
The special traveling exhibition Princes, Poets and Paladins: Islamic and Indian Paintings from the Collection of Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan will be on display at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum from May 16 through August 9, 1998. The Sackler Museum is the only U. S. venue to host the exhibition. One hundred forty-six paintings and manuscripts will be displayed that range in date from the fourteenth to the early twentieth century and come from Iran, Turkey and India. Many of the paintings are illustrations from manuscripts produced by teams of scribes, illuminators, gilders, painters, binders and their assistants. Also included are portraits and depictions of animal, plants and scenes from daily life, which were placed in albums of painting and calligraphy. Princes, Poets and Paladins was organized by the British Museum and is accompanied by a catalogue written by the exhibition curator, Sheila R. Canby, assistant keeper, Department of Oriental Antiquities. The exhibition is organized at the Harvard University Art Museums by Mary McWilliams, associate curator, and Rochelle Kessler, assistant curator, in the Department of Islamic and Later Indian Art. The Sackler Museum is located at 485 Broadway.
The earliest works in the collection, from fourteenth-century Iran, are illustrations from manuscripts of the Persian national epic the Shahnama (Book of Kings), written by the poet Firdausi around 1010 AD. In the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries political control in Iran passed to Timur (Tamerlane) and his heirs. The Timurids moved the capital from Tabriz in the west to Samarkand and Herat in the east. In the first half of the fifteenth century, artists working for the Timurid sultans and their sons developed the highly detailed, jewel-like style of painting that typifies Persian painting.
In western Iran, a vigorous school of painting developed at the courts of Turkman rulers in the second half of the fifteenth century. When Safavid dynasty came to power in 1501 and unified the eastern and western parts of Iran, the painting styles of the east and the west mingled. The Safavid rulers were followers of Shiite Islam, different from the Sunni Islam of contemporary regimes like the Ottoman Turks and the Uzbeks. The political unity under the first two Safavid rulers Shah Isma 'il and Shah Tahmasp and the establishment of the Safavid capital at Tabriz in the west caused artists to move from the Timurid capital of Herat. Bihzad, "the Herati master," the paragon of late Timurid painting, influenced Sultan Muhammed, the most gifted of the Safavid artists. He eventually painted perhaps the most extraordinary example of Persian painting, The Court of the Gayumars from an opulent edition of the Shahnama, commissioned by Shah Tahmasp c. 1522-5. The painting depicts the legendary court of Gayumars, the first shah in the epic.
The distinctly Ottoman style of painting can be traced to the conquest of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) by Mehmed II "The Conqueror" in 1453 which extended the Ottoman empire to include almost all the former Byzantine lands, including those previously lost to the Timurids on the eastern borders in 1402. In the fifteenth century, the style of Ottoman manuscript illustration depended on Persian models, especially the painting of Shiraz, but the expansion of the Ottoman empire in the sixteenth century inspired a new interest in historical manuscripts, in which military engagements were faithfully rendered. The long reign of the Ottoman sultan Süleyman the Magnificent enabled his successor, Selim II (r. 1566-74) to enjoy the pleasures of the palace without much concern for military conquests. A painting of Sultan Selim II in the exhibition depicts him partaking in one of his favorite pastimes, wine drinking, which earned him the nickname "Selim the Sot."
By the mid-sixteenth century, some artists from the Safavid Persian court had emigrated to Istanbul. Others made their way to India in the retinue of the Mughal emperor Humayun, who returned to India in 1555 from exile in Iran. It was at the court of Humayun's son and successor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) however, that the Mughal style of painting came into its own. The most important early project in this new style was a fourteen-volume Hamzanama produced by a team of Indian artists, both Muslim and Hindu, working under the supervision of Mir Sayyid `Ali and `Abd al-Samad, two Persian émigré artists. In Akbari paintings one can observe the synthesis of the precise, linear style of Persian painting with the dynamism and vibrant palette of indigenous Indian painting. With the introduction of European-style perspective and modeling, Mughal painting became increasingly naturalistic from the 1580s until the mid-seventeenth century.
From the mid-seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, artists from many Rajput Hindu courts such as Guler and Kangra in the Punjab Hills, and Bikaner, Bundi and Kotah in the Rajasthani plains began to include elements of Mughal painting such as modeling, naturalistic landscapes and a more subtle use of color into their works. At Malwa, Mankot and other courts, the artists continued to work in the more conservative, traditional Rajput style which employed simplified architectural and landscape elements to frame the central narrative, and a use of flat, bold expanses of pure color. Artists illustrated Hindu religious, heroic and romantic themes based on poetic literature, the Ramayana and other great epics, and by the eighteenth century, portraits of local rulers and hunt scenes were increasingly incorporated into their repertoire. At the Muslim courts of the Deccan in south-central India, a strong Persian flavor combined with an intense and local vision resulted in some of the most beautiful and enigmatic of all Indian paintings.
The presence of the British in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought new exposure to European tastes. Local artists working for the British depicted a range of subjects including portraits, landscapes, natural history and genre scenes, in a style known as Company painting. Paintings of the Company School were produced for European patrons in the employ of the East India Company, trading arm and agent of the British government in India and the Middle East, from 1600 to the mid-nineteenth century. A painting by Piari Jan Khanegi inscribed "... Pearee Jan a dancing woman in the usual undress" from c. 1830-40 presents a typical subject of Company paintings. One of the favorite pastimes of European and Indian gentlemen of means was to be entertained by dancing girls and musicians. In this painting, the dancer's revealing clothing and direct gaze emphasize her role as a woman who is also accessible as a courtesan. The presentation of Princes, Poets & Paladins at the Harvard University Art Museums is funded by an anonymous donor, the Hazen Polsky Foundation, Inc., and the Jose Soriano Fund.
Saturday, May 30, 11:30 a.m., Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Saturday, June 27, 11:30 a.m., Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Saturday, July 18, 11:30 a.m., Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Saturday, July 25, 11:30 a.m., Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Sunday, July 26, 2:00 p.m., Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Saturday, August 8, 11:30 a.m., Arthur M. Sackler Museum
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The Harvard University Art Museums is supported in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. -end