ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Your must-see list for the Legion of Honor’s luxurious jewelry show, “East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from the Al Thani Collection,” through February 24, 2019

The Nawanger Ruby Necklace sums up all the themes of the Legion’s Al Thani Collection exhibit.  Made in London by Cartier in 1937 for the Maharaja of Nawanger, the necklace has moved between East and West and male and female and has dazzling stories associated with it.  When the young Maharaja came to power in 1933, he inherited an enormous trove of jewels and began modernizing their traditional settings, deepening the relationship his connoisseur father had formed with Jacques Cartier.  The necklace’s 116 Burmese rubies came from the Indian Royal treasury while Cartier supplied the diamonds and the Art Deco design.  The Maharaja wore the necklace with pride.  By Western taste, it would have been worn only by a woman.  When heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post saw the necklace, she immediately commissioned Cartier to make a sapphire and diamond version of the necklace for herself.  After Indian independence in 1947, the Maharaja’s necklace was returned to Cartier and it was worn by style icon Gloria Guinness at Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball of 1966.  Image: ©The Al Thani Collection

A visit to the Legion of Honor’s jaw-dropping jewel exhibit, East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from the Al Thani Collection is pure delight.  It features more than 150 exotic treasures—gems, pieces of jewelry, jades, and objects—made in India or Europe and associated with Mughal emperors (1526-1857), maharajas (1858-1947), and their courts.  The Al Thani collection is owned by 30-year-old Sheikh Hamad bin Abudullah Al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family.  The sheikh’s love of Indian jewelry was itself inflamed by a museum visit to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum where, in 2009, he saw its wonderful Maharaja show.  He began collecting Indian jewelry in 2010.  It took a few years, but he nabbed the exhibition’s accomplished curator, Dr. Amin Jaffer (who by then headed Christie’s Asian Art division) and went on to amass one of the world’s finest collections of Indian gems,  jewelry. and artifacts.  An avid collector, the Sheik keeps adding to the roughly 6,000 works of art in his encyclopedic Al Thani Collection, housed in Qatar.

The Al Thani Collection’s Indian jewelry has toured widely, from Beijing to Venice.  The savvy San Francisco iteration, co-curated by FAMSF’s Martin Chapman and Dr. Amin Jaffer, emphasizes cross-cultural exchange between India and the West and gender.  It closes on February 24, 2019.

At the press conference, it was made known that the Sheik especially loves the Legion of Honor building.  When Beyond Extravagance, the Al Thani Collection’s first catalog of Indian gems and jewels, was launched in 2013, it was at the original Palais de la Légion d‘Honneur in Paris, making our Legion of Honor the perfect West Coast venue for the exhibition.

Here’s your must-see list:

Opening Gallery:  Maharaja of Patiala portrait and necklace, Queen Alexandra portrait

Vandyk, “Sir Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala” [wearing the Empress Eugénie diamond necklace], 1911, from glass plate negative, original size 12 × 10 in. Photo: ©National Portrait Gallery, London.

Upon entering the exhibit, you’ll encounter dazzling display cases of jewels.  After you’ve ogled the Newanger Ruby Necklace, described at the top of the article, head further through the golden arches (crafted in Rome by artist Giuliano Spinelli) to the blown-up portraits of Indian, European, and American rulers and aristocrats, male and female, all sporting their jewels.

Look no further than the 1911 photo of the Maharaja of Patiala for a lesson in “more is better.”  In matters of jewelry, it was the Indian men who showed Western female style icons what extravagance really was.  To confirm their prestige and stature, India’s male rulers covered themselves jewels.  In addition to numerous ropes of exquisite pearls, the maharaja wears a diamond necklace created for France’s Empress Eugénie, which includes the Potemkim diamond, formerly owned by Catherine the Great of Russia, as a pendant.

The wearing of pearls starts out with the men of India and the Middle East and is appropriated in the 20th century by women in the West.  An adjacent wall photo of Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII, speaks volumes.  Taken in 1902, on the day of her husband’s coronation as King of England and Emperor of India, she has draped herself in fashionable ropes of pearls, just as the Maharaja of Patiala.  She wears the famous Indian diamond, the Koh-i-Noor, in her crown and an exquisite dress that was embroidered in India.  Many of her jewels were given as tribute by Indian princes and were originally intended to be worn by men.

The re-worked famed Patiala necklace.  The original necklace disappeared after the1947 fall of the British Raj and resurfaced in London in 1988, stripped of its largest jewels. Cartier restored the necklace using zirconias, topazes, synthetic rubies, smoky quartz, citrine. Photo: Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier Collection ©Cartier

The 1928 Maharaja of Patiala necklace, made for wearing at court, represented the largest commission made by Cartier at that time. Originally, the necklace comprised 2,930 diamonds, set in platinum and cascading in five tiers around the exquisite 234 carat De Beers yellow diamond, roughly the size of a golf ball.  The Maharaja bought the diamond following its display in Paris in the early 1920’s and brought it to India.  When he commissioned the necklace in 1925, he sent an overflowing trunk of precious stones, including the yellow diamond, and jewelry to Cartier in Paris with a note requesting him to create a ceremonial necklace worthy enough for a king.  It took three years.  The necklace also had a rare 18 carat tobacco colored diamond and a number of Burmese rubies.  The Patiala necklace at the Legion has been re-worked.  Cartier restored the necklace using synthetic and lesser value stones.

Gems: Engraved Imperial Spinel Necklace

Imperial Spinel necklace, North India, spinels, 1607-1608 and 1754 -1755. Spinels, pearls, emerald, and modern stringing. Length 20 3/8 inches. Image: @The Al Thani Collection

While diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires and emeralds were prized in India, the deep red spinels of Central Asia were most valued at the Mughal court.  Don’t miss the huge translucent watermelon-colored spinels found on the Imperial Spinel Necklace.

Engraving detail, Imperial Spinel Necklace. Image: ©The Al Thani Collection

They bear multiple dynastic inscriptions, including to the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, as well as to his father, Akbar the Great, under whose rule the Mughal Empire tripled in size and wealth.  Akbar had so many unmounted precious stones that by the 1590’s, one of his 12 treasuries was reserved solely for these loose jewels, the most valuable of which were spinels.  These blood-colored gems were associated with vitality and wearing them was believed to enhance life force and stamina in battle.  Dynastic inscribed gemstones of this size and quality would have originated in the Mughal Imperial Treasury where they were prized not only for their material value and physical properties, but also for their distinguished provenance.

Idol’s Eye Diamond

The Idol’s Eye Diamond, a 70.21-carat light blue diamond from India’s Kollur mine in the Golconda region.  2.6 x 2.8 x 1.3 cm.  Modified brilliant-cut, VVS2 clarity. (The legendary Hope Diamond, also blue, is a mere 45 carats.) ©The Al Thani Collection. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

Romantic unsubstantiated stories are often attached to prized diamonds.  Legend has it that the 70.21 carat Idol’s Eye, the largest cut blue diamond in the world, and the largest diamond in the exhibit, was so named because it was torn from the eye of Hindu deity venerated in a temple in India.  The Idol’s Eye does have a mystical pear shape.

Diamonds, like many gems, were considered talismanic in India.  A 6th-century Brhat Samhita text promises:  “He who wears a diamond will see dangers recede from him, whether he be threatened by serpents, fire, poison, sickness, thieves, flood, or evil spirits.”  Large diamonds in Mughal India were cut into talismanic shapes, often an amulet (ta’widh), a form that would maximize the volume of stone.  Unfortunately, few diamonds have survived in their original cuts as the taste for diamonds in the West was different.  And, as cutting technology advanced, these prize gems were cut and re-cut to reflect contemporary taste, resulting in lost carats but maximizing brilliance and color.  The Idol’s Eye was once owned by Philippine despot Imelda Marcos and it was likely purchased it with the billions of dollars of public finds embezzled by her or her husband, Ferdinand Marcos.  It has passed through the hands of leading diamond dealers Salmon Habib, Harry Winston, Robert Mouawad and Laurence Graff.

Jahangir’s Jade Wine Cup

The Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s Wine Cup, dated AH 1016 / AD 1607-1608, mottled grey nephrite jade, Height 5.7 cm, W 5.4 cm.  Image: ©The Al Thani Collection

Emperor Jahangir’s wine cup is the earliest dated jade artifact that can be linked without question to a Mughal emperor.  In the Mughal court, jade was thought to invoke success in battle and was used for daggers.  It was also believed that jade could detect the presence of poisons, so there were many jade drinking vessels.  Jahangir’s cup is magnificently incised with Persian and Arabic calligraphy. The central band, carved in sols script, has a royal dedication announcing that the cup was made for Jahangir.  The upper border, in Nasta’aliq script, confirms it was the emperor’s personal cup and that it was made in the second year of his reign, therefore between April 1607 and March 1608.  Persian poetry also adorns the cup, including some contemporary 17th century poetry.  The Mughals of this period were very influenced by Chinese ceramics and jades and this cup’s shape is exactly that of a Chinese tea cup of this period.  The mottled jade used in the cup also reflects the Mughal affinity for Chinese bronzes and their mottled surfaces.

Jewel-encrusted Rosewater Sprinkler

Rosewater sprinkler, North India, 17th century base, late 18th century neck. Gold inlaid with rubies, emeralds, pearls. Height: 10 1/8 inches.  Image: ©The Al Thani Collection

The bottom of the rosewater sprinkler has an inscription and weight identifying it an as Imperial treasury object.  Image: @The Al Thani Collection

An entire section of the exhibit explores the opulence of the Mughal court at its height, during the 17th century.  At public court, a ruler would receive ambassadors, petitioners, nobles, returning generals, etc.  These were great events where the ruler was richly attired and the way in which he presented himself, completely adorned, was much like how a deity in a Hindu complex would be presented, as an ascendant divine being.  The ruler was normally on a textile throne and when supplicants came, there was an exchange of gifts and perfume and sometimes condiments.  This jewel encrusted rosewater sprinkler would have been used for a splashing of the hands.  It is of extreme importance because on its underside it has a Mughal imperial weight which identifies it as an Imperial treasury object.  It also relates to a group of three similar 17th century sprinklers in the Hermitage Museum which came from the loot of the Mughal treasury when the Mughal empire collapsed in 1738.

Upcoming events:

February 2, 2019: Docent Talk: “All That Glitters: The Jewels of the The Al Thani Collection,” docent Marsha Holm, John and Cynthia Fry Gunn Theater, Legion of Honor, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Free after general admission.

Paris, Spring 2020:

The Al Thani collection has found a home in Paris—the historic Hôtel de la Marine on place de la Concorde in Paris, the original warehouses of the French royal art collections.  Following an agreement signed last fall with France’s Centre des Monuments Nationaux (CMN; National Monuments Centre), the government body which manages the 18th-century property, the Al Thani collection will be exhibited in a dedicated gallery over a 20 year period.  The inaugural exhibit is due to coincide with the reopening of the Hôtel de la Marine in spring 2020 following a €100m refurbishment.

Details: East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from the Al Thani Collection,” ends February 24, 2019 at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.  Tickets:  FAMSF members free; $28 general admission; $25 (65 and older); $19 students, $13 (6-17). Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.  Closed Mondays.  For more info, visit: www.famsf.org

 

January 27, 2019 - Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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