‘Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India. 1875 to 1876’ and ‘Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts’

‘Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India. 1875 to 1876’ and ‘Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts’


The first of these two Exhibitions, ‘Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875 to 1876’, explores the visit of the Prince of Wales ( the future King Edward V11) to the Indian Subcontinent and is presented through the treasures which he received as diplomatic gifts. The Exhibition is in collaboration with Cartwright Hall, Bradford and the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester. It was previously exhibited at both places in 2017.

The second Exhibition, ‘Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts’, explores the relationship between the British Crown and South Asia. This changed between the 17th and 20th centuries as British ambitions in South Asia evolved from seeking trade to wielding political power. The Exhibition displays some very important Mughal Manuscripts and Paintings from the Royal Collection. They were gifts from Indian Rulers and the East India Company.

When viewing the splendid treasures, manuscripts and paintings, remember that in the 17th century a dynasty of rulers, now known as the Mughals, were at the zenith of their power and had a great Empire. They were descended from the Timurid rulers of Iran and Central Asia. They were Muslims and spoke Persian. Many exhibits date back to their mighty Empire which held sway over much of the Indian Subcontinent.

The Prince’s Tour of India lasted four months and he visited twenty one areas. Today, this means that it encompassed India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The idea was to build links between the Indians and the British Monarchy; The Prince held ‘Durbars’ and audiences with Indian rulers.

The Prince received many beautiful diplomatic gifts, made with skilled craftsmanship and several fine paintings and manuscripts There was a remarkable range of gifts and designs associated with places which he had visited. The producers, no doubt, had an eye on the European market. There was a growing interest in Indian Design following several Exhibitions showing their produce. The Great Exhibition encouraged this interest.

When the Prince returned to England the treasures were placed in the South Kensington Museum ( now the V&A). He wished many people to see them and they were moved to Museums throughout England and went to Paris and Copenhagen. The wide range of gifts ranged from brooches to swords. A large proportion were traditional armour, jewelled daggers and the swords were intricately wrought and jewel encrusted. There was gold and silver ware and a gold fish (articulated!)

These exhibitions should not be rushed, they are well worth your time. Notice how gemstones are backed with reflective foil to enhance the hue and depth of the jewels. Strips of gold secure them into a metal frame; a practice unique to India and still used. I liked the enamelled and diamond set inkwell in the form of a state barge (enamelling started in India in the late 16th century ). The Durbar set from Mysore is interesting, made of gold with a floral decoration, it includes plates, a tray, a perfume holder and a betel nut holder. These objects were all associated with welcoming guests to the Indian Courts. ‘The ‘morchals’ (fly whisks) were made of peacock feathers and diamonds were used to fan the guests at durbars. There was definitely competition among the rulers to impress the Prince with their gifts. He was very keen on the walking stick which turned into a gun! Its handle represented a sea creature.

One amazing exhibit in the ‘ Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts Exhibition is ‘ The Padshah: Opening Shamsa (sunburst)’.

The ‘ Shamsa’ is a divine light which God directly transfers to Kings without the assistance of men. This one is the opening page of a Royal Manuscript created for the Great Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. It symbolises Royalty and visually represents the unity, infinity, and harmony of the Divine.

About author