Friday Review » History & Culture

Updated: July 12, 2010 16:31 IST

Maharajas to ‘hold court’ in Canada this fall

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MAGNIFICENT: A file photo of the Patiala Necklace.
MAGNIFICENT: A file photo of the Patiala Necklace.

This fall, a leading art gallery in Canada will open its doors to the extravagant world of India's greatest kings.

“Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts”, organised in collaboration with London's Victoria and Albert Museum, will make its sole Canadian stop at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), from November 20 to February 27.

The exhibition will feature over 200 opulent objects, including paintings, tapestry, thrones, weapons, and jewels.

Spanning the last 300 years of India's culture — from the beginning of the 18th century to the end of British rule in 1947, and concluding with a look at the legacy of the Maharajas today — the exhibition will examine the social and historical role of these kings and their courts, bringing to light the ancient royal traditions that have permeated the lives of descendants worldwide.

Among the objects on view will be India's greatest treasures, including the magnificent Patiala Necklace, part of the largest single commission that the French house of Cartier has ever executed. Completed in 1928 and restored in 2002, this piece of ceremonial jewellery contains 2,930 diamonds and weighs almost 1,000 carats.

Other key works will include the famed throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a life-size model elephant adorned with textiles and trappings and accompanied by a silver howdah (a carriage positioned on an elephant's back) from the early 19th century, a carriage entirely made of silver commissioned by the Maharaja of Bhavnagar, and prized photographs by artists, including Man Ray and Cecil Beaton.

“Many of the arts of India exist today as a result of the patronage of the Maharajas,” says Stephen Inglis, adjunct curator of the exhibition and curator emeritus from the Canadian Museum of Civilisation.

“Their support of artists resulted in splendid and beautiful objects symbolic of royal status, power and identity, as well as the survival of many forms of dance and music. Because of their support, these traditions lived on, and now allow us the opportunity to stage such an amazing display of art and artifacts.”

AGO director and chief executive officer Matthew Teitelbaum says: “This is an exhibition of exploration and education. We look forward to sharing with the communities that are so directly in touch with this extraordinary culture.”

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