Jeweled arts of India exhibit glimmers in Cleveland

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CLEVELAND – “Treasury of the World: Jeweled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals” will be on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art from Feb. 24 through May 19.

The approximately 325 works on view – many lavished with diamonds emeralds, and rubies set in pure gold – will be displayed in groups including royal adornment, princely weapons, gemstones of inestimable importance, and sumptuous vessels, such as cups, plates, and inkwells.

Admission will be by timed ticket. Advance reservations are recommended; tickets are available now.

About the exhibit. The jeweled Arts of India exhibition is organized by and comes to the museum from The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait National Museum.

The exhibition and its catalog are the work of Manuel Keene, curator at the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait National Museum, in collaboration with Salam Kaoukji.

In Cleveland, the exhibition is being overseen by the museum’s curator of textiles and Islamic art, Louise W. Mackie.

The Muslim rulers of 17th-century India, including Shah Jahan (who commissioned the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife), are often called history’s greatest patrons of the jeweled arts.

Descendants of the 14th-century Mongol conqueror Tamerlane (or Timur), they ruled one of the wealthiest and greatest empires of Asia, and commanded exceptional expertise in gemstones and artful settings, plus unfathomable riches and access to many of the finest hard stones ever known.

The exhibition’s title comes from a 17th-century letter to Prince Charles of England, later King Charles I, written by Sir Thomas Roe, England’s first ambassador to the Mughal court (1616-19).

Some highlights. Most of the works on view date from the 17th century and were meant for ceremonial and courtly use. Among the highlights will be:

* The “Ruby Dagger,” a gold-handled dagger and its gold sheath covered with more than 2,400 rubies, emeralds, and diamonds as well as extensive engraving and repousse work; this exemplifies the many works on view incorporating India’s unique kundan technique of fusing hyper-purified gold foil with stone at room temperature (i.e., without soldering), which is then typically set with gemstones;

* A finger ring with a rotating and bobbing bird, made of gold and set with rubies, emeralds, chrysoberyl cat’s eyes, diamonds, and a single sapphire;

* A ruby-colored spinel weighing 249.31 carats, inscribed with the names of its six royal owners, fabled in recent literature as the “Timur Ruby”;

* A pendant with a cameo portrait of Shah Jahan encircled with rubies;

* A lidded cup and saucer made of gold with champleve and painted enamels – techniques imported from Europe via European jewelers who found employment in India during this period.

The exhibition is drawn from The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait National Museum. Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah began collecting Islamic art in the mid-1970s. His collection of Mughal jeweled arts is considered the finest in the world.

Many of the objects in this exhibition, along with Islamic art in other media, were housed in a building of the Kuwait National Museum Complex from 1983 until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, during which many were removed to Baghdad, then restored to the collection after the Persian Gulf War.

Photo exhibits. Cleveland Museum of Art curator of photography Tom Hinson has organized two exhibitions to complement the “Jeweled Arts of India”exhibition. Both open March 2.

* “Visions of India: Photographs by Ram Rahman” (March 2-May 8) is a loan exhibition of about 20 black-and-white images by an American-educated artist whose pictures of his native country are layered with references to politics, economics, religion, and culture.

* “Travel Photography: Images of India” (March 2-July 17) gathers about a dozen works from the museum’s collection from the mid-19th century to recent times, conveying the long-lived fascination of photographers with India’s landscape, its architectural traditions, and diverse peoples.

In the permanent galleries of the museum’s Asian collections will be a room devoted to miniature paintings from the Mughal era for the duration of the “jeweled Arts of India” exhibition.

Examples of jeweled arts from the collection, such as fine jade and enameling, are included near the entrance to this room.

Lecture series. Six leaders in the field of Islamic art from around the world will be brought to the museum for a free lecture series on Sundays at 2 p.m.

On May 5, at 1-4:30 p.m., the Textile Art Alliance, an affiliate group of the museum, will co-sponsor a free workshop on “piano scarves,” paisley and Kashmiri shawls, including an identification clinic, for examples brought by visitors and a pair of lectures by two independent scholars.

Drop-in workshops for all ages, music, dance, and other activities will make up the free Family Festival on March 1.

The museum’s VIVA! performing arts series will include a return appearance of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble of India (March 8) and other concerts during the “Jeweled Arts of India” exhibit.

Admission prices. Admission to the exhibition is $9 on weekdays and $12 on weekends; discounted tickets are available for seniors, students, and groups of 15 or more. Museum members are admitted free.

General admission to the museum’s permanent collection and other exhibits is free.

For additional information visit the Web site at www.clevelandart.org or call 1-888-CMA-0033.


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Concerts complement exhibit

CLEVELAND – Three spring concerts, all part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s VIVA! Festival of Performing Arts, will highlight the performing arts traditions of India and the Middle East.

They will take place in Gartner Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.

The first concert features The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble of India. The dance is a spiritual drama based on a 2000-year-old text.

Lebanese musician and composer Marcel Khalife, joined by his five-member ensemble, will perform April 19. Khalife plays the oud (or Arabic lute) is one of the world’s leading Arabic musicians. Jewish music of Morocco will be performed by countertenor Emil Zrihan and his six-member ensemble April 21. Zrihan is the head cantor of the synagogue in Ashkeloh, Israel, and is considered one of the finest countertenors in the world.

Tickets to each concert are $27 and $23 and may be purchased by calling 1-888-CMA-0033 or online at www.clevelandart.org.


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History behind the exhibit

CLEVELAND – It was the Delhi Sultanate, ruled at the time by the Lodi dynasty, which was conquered in 1526 by the prince Babur, who established himself as the first ‘Mughal’ emperor.

Babur was born in Central Asia, a descendant of Timur (known in the West as Tamerlane) and Genghis Khan.

His son and successor, Humayun, after a 10-year reign, was driven out by Shir Shah Sur (leader of the Afghan commanders in northern India), whose line ruled for 15 years.

Humayun was, however, able in 1555 to return from his exile in Iran and reestablish himself at Delhi, after which the Mughals’ rule lasted officially until the last emperor, Bahadur Shah, was deposed by the British in 1857.

It was particularly in the reigns of Humayun’s son, Akbar, and his two successors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, that a 100-year-long period of might and glory (1556-1657) established the everlasting fame of the ‘Great Moguls.’

They were fabled in the West at the time, and no richer or more distinguished connoisseurs have drawn breath; however, they should not be seen in isolation, but as part of a general and ages-long pattern in the Subcontinent which had been the fabulously wealthy East since the time of the Greeks and Romans….

India was blessed as the only significant source of diamonds before their discovery in Brazil in the 18th century, and she was also made rich by her spices; but more than any other resource, it was her art industries (most especially textiles, but also including a whole array of specialized and sophisticated products) which she traded for the gold and silver that poured in by the ton.

– from the Historical Note, by Manuel Keene




The Yesteryear Column: Hook device made buttoning up easier

Antique columnist Roy Booth writes about the humble button hook, an indispensable accessory in the 19th century.

By Roy Booth

During a time from the middle of the 19th century until World War I, in order to finish dressing for the day by putting shoes or articles of clothing on and fastening them, a very humble device named a button hook was required.

To fasten a shoe about 26 buttons needed attended; a man’s jacket around 21, and for a ladies dress possibly 100 or more. Dressing was a rather complicated procedure. Spats placed on the shoes, undergarments, coats plus other attire also possessed many buttons.

This procedure was a daily chore, therefore to dress in clothing suitable for town, business or social affairs, much time was required. There was not any other way. Imagine how impatient todays folks would be.

Hence the hook. This device is very simple – a short handle fastened to a shaft with a small hook at the end, usually from 3-8 inches long, with handles made from available material.

To use, one needs to insert the button-hook through the button hole, fasten the hook around the underside of the button, turn the hook slightly and pull the button through.

Mankind has rarely been satisfied with any article utilized readily, and has always sought a simpler, easier or more attractive improvement. Variations of the button hook therefore came about.

Some of the changes were a hoop-like end instead of the standard hook. Others had an oval shaped handle, like the letter “O”, so the button-hook could be hung on the ladies belt. A necklace, named a “chatalaine,” was also used to hang button hooks, keys, sewing devices or other items.

Some hooks had short handles about an inch long. These were used to fasten gloves, and several had handles over a foot long known as “fat lady hooks.” The hooks were used by a heavy person or assisting folks due to age or inabilities to fasten shoes.

One for everyone. Due to the fact this item was indispensable, price ranges varied. Expensive metals, including ivory and mother-of-pearl, made handles for the well-to-do; pewter, steel, brass, wood, celluloid and common materials were used by the laborer.

The working class of folks usually obtained their button-hooks along with dresser, sewing, manicure, or shaving sets. The poor were given a plain low value button-hook when they purchased a new pair of shoes, similar to what shoe stores did when I was young with a shoe horn. These shoe horns and button hooks today are most often sought by collectors, especially since they had an advertisement or business name imprinted on them.

The well-to-do purchased their more valuable material types. Catalogs illustrated many fancy button hooks, and Sears made and sold some of the finest and best detailed of the time.

They often sold from one cent for carved wood, 18 cents for celluloid or 50-60 cents for silver handled varieties. Today, fancy types are from $10 to around $100 for silver.

Today these button hooks are also useful – a stuck zipper or arthritis affected fingers can be assisted for stubborn zippers. Even buttons can be less trouble.

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