Published: April 15, 2008
“Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin” opens May 3 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. On view through August 3, the exhibition will bring together 86 jewel-like masterpieces from the renowned collection and include masterworks from the Freer Gallery’s collection of Mughal paintings
At the turn of the Twentieth Century, American-born industrialist and philanthropist Sir Alfred Chester Beatty began creating one of the world’s greatest collections of Mughal paintings, establishing the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland, in 1954.
The Mughal Empire ruled India from the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries, during which time remarkable paintings and calligraphy were commissioned by Emperors Jahangir (1605‱627) and Shah Jahan (1627‱658) for display in lavish imperial albums. A window into the world of the emperors, these albums (called “muraqqa” in Persian) illustrate the relaxed private life of the imperial family, as well as Sufi saints and mystics, allies and courtiers and natural history subjects. Produced by the greatest Mughal artists of the time, these paintings offer a fascinating, detailed lens into the lives of these great rulers.
Similar to their Timurid ancestors, the great Mughals had a deep appreciation for the art of the book and the expressive possibilities of the muraqqa. Even before the death of his father Akbar, architect of the Mughal Empire and active patron of the arts, Emperor Jahangir established his own atelier and began commissioning lavish paintings that expressed his refined sensibility, as well as his own personal interests and curiosities.
Jahangir was a connoisseur who preferred a single painter to work on his images, as opposed to the collaborative painting method of his father’s time, and favored naturalistic paintings and drawings that drew on Persian, Indian and European ideals. With the rise of individual styles, Jahangir claimed that he was able to recognize any painter’s work from merely looking at the faces of subjects depicted in the paintings.
The exhibition is divided into ten thematic sections, following an introductory group of Persian manuscripts collected by the Indian Mughal emperors. These manuscripts set the stage for a look at the Mughal dynastic histories and memoirs and reveal the cultural and historical milieu in which these albums emerged. An exciting feature of the exhibition will be several recto-verso displays of double-sided folios.
Other sections of the exhibition are devoted to separate albums, allowing the visitors to view the pages as they would have been viewed by the Mughals themselves.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is at 1050 Independence Avenue, SW. For information, www.asia.si.edu or 202-633-1000.
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