Rulers in Nepal favoured the hybridity of the Turban-Crown, which blended indigenous traditions with European iconography (Carvalho, 2010, p.146, no.68.). Shree Maharaja Jung Bahadur Rana (1817-1877), the founder of the Rana Dynasty (1846), was pivotal in constructing the model of the Turban-Crown in Nepal (pictured here). Once a designated officer in the Rana Dynasty line, you were entitled to wear a Turban-Crown in public. Amir Jaffer suggests that headpieces were a means of identifying an individual’s position in the political hierarchy (Jaffer, 2013, p.272, no.91). On a rudimentary level, the more bejewelled and intricate the Turban-Crown, the more high-ranking the official.
The present lot is an exquisite example of the Turban-Crown, embellished with pearl-encrusted gold brocade, and featuring diamonds, emeralds and rubies. On the turban, six ribs lead up to a large emerald set into the apex of the piece, framed by more pearls. The triangular sections between the ribs contain intricate foliage designs in pearl encrusted gold brocade.
The detachable diamond ornament with a silver openwork plaque, mounted on the front, takes the stylised form of a bird. The present lot has an intricate coat of arms, which contains the national deity of Nepal, Shri Pashupatinath (also an incarnation of the God Shiva). He is recognized as being Lord of the Animals, making the bird motif even more pertinent. On each side of the deity stands a figure, one a recruit and the other a trained soldier (Jaffer, 2013, p.272, no.91). The inscription, written in devanagari, appears around the coat of arms, and reads, ‘Honourable Government of Nepal…Mother and land of birth are greater than heaven.’ (Jaffer, 2013, p.272, no.91). Therefore, this Turban-crown is an ode to the wearers native land of Nepal, conjuring up ideas of protection through links to the military and deity.
The high plumage of the bird of paradise feathers, arcing over the crown, were sourced from New Guinea and became popular in the mid-19th century. The rarity of crowns such as this, is an effect of the unstable political climate following Independence, which saw maharaja’s losing their privileges and many dismantling the jewels on their crowns (Carvalho, 2010, p.146, no.68).
For very similar items, see Bonhams, The Jacques Desenfans Collection, 10 April 2008, lot 155 and Sotheby’s, 15th October 1998, lot 140 and the Nasser D. Khalili Collection’s Occidentalism (vol.XXIII), p.140, cat.79.