Maharaja: Splendors of India’s Great Kings
Procession of Ram Singh II of Kota. Photo Credit: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Art’s new exhibition, Maharaja: Splendors of India’s Great Kings, opened May 21 and highlights royal artifacts, arts, decorations, texts, clothing, and vehicles from the final ruling dynasties of India. The art and material cultural items of India’s maharajas date from the early 18th century to the mid-20th century.
Since reopening with its new addition, the VMFA has highlighted artifacts of other legendary dynasties like the Russian Czars with Faberge Revealed, the Dukes of Burgundy France with The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, and the Pharaohs of Egypt with Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb. Maharaja continues this tradition with of 200 displayed objects. Many of the objects rival or surpass these in glamour, glitz, and glory.
“Visitors will get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the private lives of some of the world’s greatest and most legendary royals,” VMFA Director Alex Nyerges said. “Three centuries of elaborate jewelry, ornate weaponry, fascinating artwork, royal costumes, and photographs will be on display. Maharaja is the first exhibition of its kind to delve into these kings’ unique culture. Many of the objects are drawn from the Victoria & Albert Museum of London’s unrivaled colonial-period collections. The museum’s South Asian and European decorative arts collections further illustrate the rich artistic tradition of this era.”
Set against a backdrop of the tumultuous changes of the early 18th century through the 1940s, the exhibition takes visitors on a tour of Indian kingdoms during eras of shifting political powers. A richly appointed throne room, a saddle carried by an elephant, a horse-drawn carriage of enameled silver, a throne sheathed in gold and numerous paintings are some of the objects that will animate the courts of India’s kings. Visitors will learn of the institution of Indian kingship through an exploration of the many roles – political, religious, military, and cultural – played by the ideal ruler. Through the art and objects made for the royals, the exhibition will trace the ways in which the maharajas adapted to the profound historical changes occurring during their time – from the waning of the Mughal Empire, through the rise of British hegemony to the eve of Indian and Pakistani independence.
The Indian experience flows throughout the VMFA. The museum’s two restaurants, Amuse & Best Café, will contain numerous Indian edibles on their menus. The gift shop was remade into an Indian Bazar and filled with fascinating items for the home. The museum’s educational programs include a free family day event, Celebrate the Art of India, on Saturday, May 26, 1-4 p.m.; a public lecture, The World of the Maharaja, on Thursday, May 24 at 6:30 p.m. featuring the exhibition’s lead curator, Anna Jackson of the Victoria and Albert Museum; and a film, The Sky Below, with director Sarah Singh on July 13, 6:30-9 p.m.
The museum’s permanent exhibition of South Asian Art contains even more examples of royal Indian Art. One item of interest is the 27-ton Garden Pavilion for the palace complex in Rajasthan’s princely state of Bharatpur. This gorgeous pavilion was a bit too large to include in this international touring exhibition organized by the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. The exhibition closes August 19, 2012.
Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
Dale Chihuly’s work comes to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the studio glass movement.October 22, 2012
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