April 2015 saw the opening of the much anticipated exhibition Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The exhibition brought together a number of courtly objects and paintings sourced from private and public collections in Europe, North America and notably India. Lent by the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art in Hyderabad, India, one of the highlights was a painting of a brightly coloured parrot perched in a mango tree with a ram tethered below.
A parrot perched on a mango tree, a ram tethered below. Golconda, circa 1630-70. Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, 9 3/8 x 5 1/2 in. (23.9 x 14.1 cm.). Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad (76.438)
The idea for the exhibition came from a symposium held at the Met back in 2008 entitled Sultans of the South: Arts of India's Deccan Courts, 1323–1687. Organised by the Met’s South Asia Curator Navina Najat Haidar and Marika Sardar, the symposium focused on textiles and paintings and greatly enhanced our knowledge of the region.
Sultan Ibrahim 'Adil Shah II with a consort. Attributed to the Dublin painter, Bijapur, central India, circa 1590-1605. Estimate: £150,000-200,000. This and the two works below will be offered in our sale, Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds, on 8 October at Christie’s King Street
The creative genius, as well as the intellectual complexities, of the region stem from its role as a crossroads of the Indian sub-continent. From the 14th to the late 17th century, Deccani culture was influenced by both Iran and the Hindu courts of South India, after which time it became increasingly dominated by the Mughals from the north. As a result many works of art with a definite Indian flavour but with a quirky twist or unique creative angle are attributed to the Deccan. The exhibition at the Met – which was carefully laid out by region and thematically broken down into individual sultanates – presented these multiple influences in such a way as to give a clear sense of context to the works on view.
A rare Deccani lacquer scribe’s box. Probably Golconda, central India, first half 17th century. Estimate: £80,000-120,000
The beautifully illustrated exhibition catalogue, at some 368 pages, indicates both the range of objects that were on display and the depth of the research that accompanied them. But looking beyond the important academic achievements of the exhibition, it was the splendid works of art that drew the eye, in particular the wealth of bidri inlaid metalwork. A riot of geometric, vegetal and occasionally figurative designs, these works were aesthetic masterpieces of their time.
An exceptionally fine silver- and brass-inlaid curved dagger (khanjar). Bidar, central India, 17th century. Estimate: £80,000-120,000
Another strength of the exhibition was the number and quality of paintings on view. A particular effort was made to bring together pieces by known artists such as ‘Ali Riza (The Bodleian Painter)&lrquo; and the ‘Paris’, ‘Bikaner’ and ‘Bombay’ painters. It was wonderful being able to identify and trace the constant elements in each artist’s work, while also enjoying the paintings as individual works of art. These masterpieces typify the strength of the Deccani school of painting: soft outlines contrast with bold colours, and detailed figurative portraits full of personality are infused with a strong sense of the mythical and fantastical.
Sultan ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah II slays a tiger. Attributed to the Bombay Painter (probably Abdul Hamid Naqqash), Bijapur, circa 1660. Ink, opaque watercolour, gold, and probably lapis-lazuli pigment on paper. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Lent by Howard Hodgkin
This autumn we can look forward to an exciting programme of Indian art exhibitions including the India Festival at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The festival will feature a dedicated Indian textiles exhibition The Fabric of India, alongside a photography exhibition and exquisite jewels from the Al Thani Collection.
Suggested Further Reading:
Navina Najat Haidar and Marika Sardar, Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700, Opulence and Fantasy, MET Publications, 2015
Navina Najat Haidar and Marika Sardar (ed), Sultans of the South: Arts of India’s Deccan Courts, 1323-1678, MET Publications, 2011
Mark Zebrowski, Deccani Painting, London, 1983
Mark Zebrowski, Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, London, 1997