Monday, October 31, 2011

Jill Krementz covers Met's Islamic Galleries, Part I

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has devoted its newly renovated galleries for its preminent collection of Islamic Art.
New Galleries for the Art of the
Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia

Open to the public November 1, 2011
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

At last! The Met now has a magnificent and newly transformed permanent setting for its preeminent collection of Islamic Art.

After eight years of construction, fifteen galleries are now dedicated to showing off the museum’s renowned collection. Some 1,200 works of art in all media will be on view at any time, representing all major regions and artistic styles from the seventh century onward.

Spread out over 19,000 square feet and spanning 13 centuries, the displays include glassware, metalwork, ceramics, textiles, carpets, manuscript pages, royal miniatures, jewelry, paintings, and architectural elements including a 14th-century mihrab.

Highlights include The Damascus Room, built in 1707, and one of the finest examples of the Ottoman period, and The Moroccan Court, built by the Naji family and craftsmen from Moresque of Fez, Morocco.

The planning and realization of the new galleries has been under the departmental leadership of Sheila Canby and overseen by Navina Najat Haidar.
Eight display cases outside the Met Museum along Fifth Avenue advertise the new galleries.
Curators Sheila Canby and Navina Najat Haidar.

Ms. Canby is the Curator in charge of Islamic Art.

Ms. Haidar is the curator and coordinator for the new galleries.

According to Ms. Canby: "Navina is the person who ran this place from 2003 to the present. I'm just an interloper."
At the entrance to the first gallery, which showcases masterpieces from across the collection.

Bowl with Arabic Inscription
Iran, probably Nishapur, Samanid period
10th century (819-1005)
Earthenware, white slip with black slip decoration under transparent glaze

The calligraphic decoration on the bowl reads "Planning before work protects you from regret; prosperity and peace," but the shortening, bending, and elongation of the letters has transformed the words into abstract motifs of tremendous power. With its monumental presence and the artful arrangement of its letters in which vertical flourishes punctuate the horizontal flow of the words at rhythmic intervals, this bowl stands out among the many other inscribed ceramics of the same period.
Qur'an Manuscript
Turkey, Ottoman period (ca. 1299-1923), 15th-16th century

Stand for a Qur'an Manuscript
Iran or Central Asia, dated A.H. 761/A.D. 1360
Wood teak, carved and inlaid
Detail of Qur'an Manuscript.
Qur'an Manuscript
Syria or Iraq, Abbasid period (750-1258)
late 9th-early 10th

Main support: ink, opaque, watercolor, and gold on parchment.
Binding: leather; tooled

Folio from the "Blue-Qur'an"
Sura 30 (al-Rum): 28-32
Probably Tunisia, Qairawan, North Africa, Fatimid
period (909-1171), mid-9th-mid-10th century
Gold and silver on indigo-dyed parchment

As in other early Qur'ans, the script here is difficult to read because the letters have been manipulated to make each line the same length, and the marks necessary to distinguish between letters have been omitted.
Bifolium from the Mushaf al-Hadina (Nurse's Qur'an)
Tunisia, probably Quirawan, Zirid (972-1148)
ca. A.H. 410/A.D. 1019-20
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on parchment
Album of Calligraphies, including Poetry and Prophetic Traditions (Hadith)
Turkey, probably Istanbul, Ottoman period
(ca. 1299-1923), ca. 1500
Main support, ink, watercolor, and gold on paper
Margins: ink, watercolor and gold; marbled paper
Binding" leather and gold
Mihrab Tile
Iran, Ilkhanid period (1206-1353), dated A.H. 722/A.D. 1322-23

Arabic inscription: "In the name of God, the Merciful, the compassionate; and keep up prayer in the two parts of the day and in the first hours of the night; surely good deeds take away evil deeds; this is a reminder to the mindful."
After the first Gallery, you would be wise to consult this floor map. There are 15 galleries tracing the course of Islamic civilization over a span of 13 centuries, from the Middle East to North Afrca, Europe, and Central and South Asia.

The new space is 19,000 square feet and the installation represents eight years of planning
and work.

Viewers: Start your engines!
View of gallery 451: Arab Lands and Iran under the Umayyads and Abbasids (7th-13th centuries).
Ewer with a Feline-shaped Handle
Iran, Umayyad period (661-750), 7th century
Bronze, cast, chased, and inlaid with copper

This ewer demonstrates a continuation of Parthian and Sasanian forms during the early Islamic period in Iran. The lobed forms represent mountains and the vertical lines surrounded by budlike shapes are probably plants.
Throne Leg in the Shape of a Griffin
Iran, Unmayyed period (661-750), late 7th early 8th century

Bronze; cast around a ceramic core and chased.

This throne leg in the shape of hybrid creature continues a long history of fantastic animal forms in Iranian art.
Lawrence Becker, conservator in charge of the exhibition. Mr. Becker has been at the Met for 18 years. In the case of the panel behind him, "the tiny pieces of bone alongside the ivory can fall apart."

"Hopefully we should all last this long."
Conservator Mechthild Baumeister. Her friends call her "Mecka."
Rahmi M. Koç

Mr. Koç is from Turkey. He helped the Met with a generous gift of $10 million from the Istanbul-based Vehbi Koç Foundation (named after his father who was Turkey's most prominent businessman), which display works created within the borders of the Ottoman Empire between the early 14th and early 20th centuries.

One gallery, devoted to the Ottomans of Istanbul, showcases works from the
royal court during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1494–1566), a time
when the Ottoman Empire reached the height of its power and prestige. On view are Iznik ceramics of every major type, masterpieces of calligraphy, paintings, exquisite drawings, and woven silks, velvets, and carpets from the imperial workshops.

The second gallery focuses on the greater Ottoman world and is dedicated to the Museum’s unparalleled collection of Ottoman carpets, textiles, and arms and armor, displayed beneath a carved and gilded 16th-century wooden ceiling. The diversity of carpets from Anatolia and other regions will be shown along with examples of high imperial, fine commercial, and lively tribal styles.
Hollowed Vessels in the Shape of a Bearded Man (left) and in the Shape of a Woman Holding a Child
Iran, Seljuq period (1040-1196), second half of the 12th-first half of the 13th century
Stonepaste; molded, luster painted on opaque white glaze
Vicky Parry, conservator. Ms. Parry worked on the Nishapur part of the exhibit.

"These are the curated objects from the site. We had to conserve and restore some of the pieces so they were stable for display. This is a popular collection for archeologists and historians, which means this material is very important. The site was on what is known as the silk road."
Objects found at the Sabz Pushan site, dating mostly between the ninth and eleventh centuries.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's excavations at Nishapur.
Decorative panels from the Sabz Pushan site that you can see in the center of above photograph.
Iran, Nishipur, excavated
at Sabz Pushan, 9th-11th century
Glass, green; blown, applied spout
Iran, Nishipur, excavated
at Sabz Pushan, 9th-10th century
Earthenware; slip-overed, unglazed
22-year-old Corinne Colgan experimenting with the interactive touch panel showing the Nishapur Excavations.

"I am the intern in digital media here at the museum. I graduated from Ithaca College where i majored in TV and Radio."
This is one of the best uses of interactive touch panels I've seen.
Incense Burner of Amir Saif al-Din Muhammad al-Mawardi
Iran, Seljuq period (1040-1196), dated A.H. 577/A.D. 1181-82
Bronze, cast, engraved, chased, and pierced

Zoomorphic incense burners were popular during the Suljuq period This lion-shaped example is exceptional for it's monumental scale. The head is removable so that coat and incense could be placed inside, and the body and neck are pierced so that the scented smoke could escape. The lions would certainly have been at home in a palatial setting.
Two Royal Figures
Iran, Seljuq period (1040-1196), mid-11th century-mid-12th century
Stucco; modeled, carved, polychrome painted, and gilded

These large polychrome stucco sculptures of princely figures probably once served as centerpieces of a more extensive composition of stucco revetments in an Iranian palace complex.
Rooster-headed Ewer
Iran, Kashan, 13th century
Stonepaste; molded and applied decoration, underglaze painted under transparent glaze

The ewer belongs to a group decorated with bold cobalt stripes associated with Kashan. Although the pigment has a tendency to run, the potter controlled it masterfully, widening and tapering the stripe to accentuate the ewer's form. Rooster-headed ewers had a long tradition in Islamic art and were especially popular in the Seljuq period.
Tall-necked Bottle
Iran, 12th-13th century
Glass, blue, dip-molded, blown
Edward Maloney, Editor of Arts Cart.
"It's like New Yorkers have a new museum."
John Dorfman who writes for Art & Antiques.
"I wish this was my house."
Anastassiia Botchkareva, who is a fellow in the Met's Education Department. She is looking at a display case of objects in the Islamic Galleries.
Ceramic Bowl and Lid
Iran, Seljuq Period (1040-1196), 12th-13th century
Earthenware; white slip-covered decoration under monochrome green glaze ("Garrus ware")

These two pieces belong to a group know as "Garrus ware," named after a district southwest of the Caspian Sea, where examples were reportedly found. They epitomize two of the most typical Garrus-ware designs: vegetal motifs within interlaced frameworks, and animals in heraldic poses. The designs are carved through the creamy slip coating the body, exposing reddish earthenware, to which darkening agents are applied. The whole piece is then covered with the transparent glaze.
Bottle with Sprinkler Top
Iran, Khurasan, Seljuq period (1040-1196), second half of the 12th century

Quarternary alloy; cast, engraved, inlaid with silver and copper

Bottles of this form often contained bath oils. The knobs protruding from its sides (prunts) provided a grip should the bottle become slippery. The style of the birds around the top and the presence of inlaid decoration suggest a twelfth-century date. The inscription is formed of abbreviated words in Arabic, wishing the owner well.
Group of Cosmetic Flasks
Iran or Central Asia, probably 10th-12th century
Serpentine; carved, incised

Iran, 9th-10th century
Soapstone; carved, drilled
Iran, 9th-10th century
Soapstone; carved, drilled

These charming objects were designed to hold kohl, a black cosmetic powder applied around the eyes. In the past, kohl was widely used by men and children as well as women. It was thought not only to accentuate the beauty of the eyes, but also to guard against the flaring, sun, ward off evil, and discourage eye disease. The narrow drill holes at the top of these flask would have accommodated slender sticks to collect the cosmetic.
Low Table or Stand
Iran, Khurasan, 12th-13th century
Stonepaste, molded and modeled decoration
monochrome glazed

As potters explored the properties of the recently introduced stonepaste, they learned that the pliable unfired material could be fashioned into increasingly ambitious forms. Because of its strength when fired, stonepaste was even adopted to create pieces of furniture.
Iran, 9th-10th century
Soapstone; carved, drilled
Low Table or Stand
Iran, Khurasan, 12th-13th century
Stonepaste, molded and modeled decoration
monochrome glazed
Iran, 9th-10th century
Soapstone; carved, drilled
Low Table or Stand
Iran, Khurasan, 12th-13th century
Stonepaste, molded and modeled decoration
monochrome glazed
Zeenat Rashid and Robina Niaz. Ms. Niaz is part of the community development initiative working with the Met on these new galleries.
Tray Made for the Rasulid Sultan al-Mu'ayyad
Da'ud ibn Yusof
Egypt, Cairo, Mamluk period (1250-1517), early 14th century
Brass, engraved and inlaid with silver and black compound

A sultan from Yemen commissioned this tray, which includes his name and titles in a large band surrounding a central medallion with the twelve signs of the zodiac and personification of the seven planets of medieval belief (the sun, the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus.)
Kitab Suwar al-Kawakib al-Thabita
(Book of the Images of the Fixed Stars) of al-Sufi
Iran, Timurid period (1370-1507), 15th century,
Ink and gold on paper

This book, based on the Almagest of the Greek astronomer Prolemy, concerns the forty-eight constellations known as the Fixed Stars, which, according to the medieval conception of the universe, inhabited the eighth of the nine spheres surrounding the earth. The constellations each appear twice in mirror image, shown as observed from the earth and from the sky.
Preparing Medicine from Honey
Page from a Dispersed Manuscript of an Arabic
Translation of De Materia Medica of Dioscorides

Copyists: 'Abdallah ibn al-Fadi
Possibly Bagdad, Iraq or Northern Jazira
dated A.H. 621/A.D. 1224

Bagdad continued to produce manuscripts even after the 1258 Mongol invasion. The "Bagdad" School of Illustration employed bold colors and symmetrical compositions, depicting the details of urban life and figures in contemporary local dress. This folio depicts a pharmacist preparing a honey-based medicine in a caldron, while an assistant upstairs distributes it into jars.
Chess set
Iran, Mishapur, Seljuq period (1040-1196),
12th century
Stonepaste; molded and glazed

This nearly complete chess set is one of the earliest extant examples in the world. The pieces are abstract forms: the shah (king) is represented as a throne; the vizier (the equivalent of the queen, is a smaller throne; the elephant (bishop) has two tusklike protrusions; the horse (knight) has a triangular knob representing it's head; the chariot (rook) is rectangular with a wedge at the top; and the pawns are faceted hemispheres with knobs.
Planispheric Astrolabe
Maker: Muhammad Zman al-Munajjim al-Asurlabi
Iran, Safavid period (1501-1722),
dated A.H. 1065/AD 1654-55
Brass and steel; carved, engraved, pierced, inscribed

Astrolabes of this size were not precise enough for astronomical observations, but served well for telling time, and astrologers could use them to determine the position of a planet relative to the different astrological houses.

The intricate calligraphic faceplate of this example is typical of Safavid-period astrolabes; it reads:" In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate" (bismallah al-Rahman al-Rahim).
Astrolabe of 'Umar ibn Yusuf al-Musaffari
Yemen, Rasulid period (1228-1454),
dated A.H. 690/A.D. 1291
Brass, pierced and engraved

For the medieval period, this astrolabe is unusually well documented. Its inscription attributes it to a Rasulid prince, 'Umar ibn Yusuf, a few years before he ascended to the throne (r. 1295-96).

'Umar compiled a number of scientific treatises, including one of the construction of astrolabes, an autograph version of which, preserved in Cairo, contains certifications by his teachers as to his competence as a maker of such devices, and a description of this very piece.
Munajat ("Confidential Talks") of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
Iraq, possibly Mosul, ca 1200
Ink, gold, and opaque watercolor on paper; morocco leather binding

The introduction of this short manuscript claims a chain of seventeen authorities transmitted this text from 'Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law (d. 660). The similarity of the calligraphy of its title and the surrounding illuminated scrolls to another manuscript dated and attributed to Mosul provides the basis for attributing this piece.
Western Iran, northern Iraq, or northern Syria, late 13th-first half of the 14th century
Brass; inlaid with silver, gold, and black compound

In the medallions decorating this candlestick sits a ruler on a lion-throne with harpies and attendants, and figures holding a crescent personifying the Moon. Arabic inscription around the base an neck wish the owner well and list his princely titled, reinforcing the themes of royal authority and prosperity conveyed in the imagery.
Double-sided Tombstone
Egypt, Fatimid (909-1171) and Ayyubid (1169-1260) period, 10th century and dated A.H. 646/A.D. 1248-49
Marble, carved

This marble tombstone is carved on both sides; on the side on view, a Qur'anic verse (Sura 3:18) is inscribed in robust kufic script, characteristic of the Fatimid period. More than two centuries later, the stone was reused, again as a tomb marker. It was inverted and carved with an inscription that includes a death date of 1248-49, framed within an arch on columns with rosettes in the spandrels and a lamp suspended from its apex.
Tile Panel
Syria, Damascus, ca. 1430
Stonepaste, molded and polychrome painted under transparent glaze

These tiles represent a ceramic type produced by the workshop of Ibn al-Ghaibi al-Tawrizi, which operated out of Damascus in the early fifteenth century before locating to Cairo. The panel is so similar in technique, composition, and style to one signed by Ghaibi and still extant in the funerary complex of Ghars al-Din al-Tawrizi (d. 1430) in Damascus that it probably came from that very building. The Museum holds more than a dozen sherds bearing the signature of this workshop, as well as a ceramic mosque lamp signed by the son of Ghaibi.
Mosque Lamps
Egypt or Syria, Mamluk period (1250-1517),
14th century

Glass, colorless with yellow tinge, blown, applied blown foot, enameled and gilded

One of the conventions of Mamluk mosque lamp decoration was to execute one inscription band in blue and the other in reserve against a blue ground.

Above the lamps:
Panels from Sultan Lajins Minbar at the Mosque of Ibn Tulan, Cairo
Egypt, Mamluk period (1250-1517), 1296
Egypt, Mamluk period (1250-1517), 1296
Sarah Sayeed, who originates from South India and now lives in New York where she works with the Interfaith Center. Ms. Sayeed is admiring a selection of Turquoise and Black Raqqa Ware from Syria.
Met curator Sheila Canby being interviewed by BBC contributor Michael Maher for a segment that will reach 15 million viewers.
The Elephant Clock
Folio for the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by Al-Jazari
Calligrapher: Farruk ibn 'Abd al-Latif
Syria, Mamluk period (1250-1517) A.H. 710/A.D. 1315
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper.

This page comes from a treatise on fantastic devices invented by the author al-Jazari. His elephant clock was especially intricate; every half hour, the bird on the dome whistled; the man below dropped a ball into the dragon's mouth, and the driver hit the elephant with his goad. While illustrated manuscripts were growing increasingly popular at the time, this folio is a rare survival from Syria, where few such manuscripts are known from this date.
Egle Žygas, the Met's Senior Press Officer working on this momentous exhibition. It is always a pleasure to work with Ms. Žygas.
Tympanum with a Horse and Rider
Caucasus, probably Kubatchi, Ottoman period
(ca. 1299-1923), second half of the 14th century
Stone; carved, with traces of paint.

This tympanum once adorned the facade of the so-called House of Ahmad and Ibrahim located in the town of Kubatchi in the Caucasus. The vegetal decoration surrounding the central figure has been compared to fourteenth-and fifteenth century stone carvings found in the city. The date is further supported by the dress of the lively rider. His costume incorporates a curvilinear "cloud collar" around its neckline, which was introduced to Iran by the Mongols and became fashionable in the fifteenth century.

This is a good example of why, when you are walking through the galleries, you must keep your eyes peeled for surprises above your head.
View of Gallery 455: Iran and Central Asia (13th-16th centuries).
A 14th-century prayer niche or mihrab, from a theological school in Isfahan, Iran.

Created predominantly with tiles of contrasting dark blue and milky white glazes, the mihrab has additional turquoise, ocher-yellow, and dark green colors that enrich the complex geometric, vegetal, and calligraphic patterns.

This mihrab would have served in a Muslim house of worship to indicate the direction to Mecca. It has been positioned by the Met so it faces East.
View of Gallery representing The Ottoman Empire, ca. 1299-1923.

Under Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottomans centralized artistic production in a variety of imperial workshops. The designs produced in the ateliers were applied to works in many media, textiles, carpets, ceramics, and metalwork--creating an identifiable imperial style. Many of the objects on display here are the work of Suleiman's court artists, as well as later generation of imperial craftsmen.
Dish with Kaleidoscope Design
Turkey, Iznik, Ottoman period (ca. 1299-1923),
ca. 1585-90
Stonepaste; polychrome, painted under transparent glaze
New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz with Met press officer, Naomi Takafuchi. Art Critic John Zeaman, who writes frequently for The Bergen Record.

"What's wonderful is that it challenges your sense of history by its organization of everything by Islamic conquest."
Spanish Ceiling and a selection of rugs in Gallery 459: Carpets, Textiles, and the Greater Ottoman World.
Carpet with Palm Trees, Ibexes, and Birds
Present-day Pakistan, Lahore, Mughal period (1526-1858),
late 16th-early 17th century
Cotton (warp and weft, wool (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile

This carpet, with its pictorial depiction of trees, birds, and animals is conceived like a textile with a repeat design in which each unit reverses the direction of the preceding one. The ibexes, Chinese mythological beasts called qilins, and animals in combat, are derived from Safavid Persian art, as is the border design of cartouches and star-shaped medallions with cloud bands. The palm tree, however, is a very Indian feature, as is the generally naturalistic drawing of the flora and fauna and the bright red color of the field. The relationship to Persian carpet design dates this example to the early Mughal period, soon after the first carpet workshops were established by the emperor Akbar in Lahore, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri.
Detail of carpet.
The Muslim warrior typically fought on horseback and, like the European knight, was armored head to foot in mail and plate. These examples include richly decorated helmets, body armor, and defenses for the upper and lower leg that date from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century and were probably intended only for the highest ranking commanders.

The plates are engraved and damascened in silver, the decoration consisting of foliate scrolls and inscriptions that include Qur'anic verses, poetry, or phrase that glorified the temporal ruler, wished the warrior well, or gave advice on how to attain virtues. The entire body of the warrior was thus covered with protective or auspicious inscriptions. Armor of this type had a wide geographic and cultural distribution, worn by Mamluk, Aq Quyunlu, Shirvani, Timurid, and Ottoman warriors.

All of the pieces here are engraved with the circular mark applied in the Ottoman arsenals, where armor and weapons were stored and displayed as demonstrations of Ottoman military glory.
Iron, silver, copper, alloy

A masterpiece of metalworking, this helmet is forged with a narrow horizontal channel that progresses as a continuous upward spiral. Also unusual is the inlay of both silver and brass, which includes Arabic inscriptions giving honorific titles and offering good wishes. The sliding nasal defense bears an inscription, possibly in a Turkish dialect.
Defense for the Thigh and Knee
Iron, silver, copper alloy
Defense for the Lower Right Leg (Greave)
Iron, silver, gold.

The bold floral forms recall Timurid painting and ceramics.
One of the highlights of the new galleries:

The Damascus Room -- a winter reception room built in 1701 for a wealthy Syrian family. The 26-foot-long wood- paneled room is surrounded on three sides by red velvet divans that face a gurgling fountain.
The windows of The Damascus Room ... ... and its beautiful ceiling.
Mechthild Baumeister, the Met's wood conservator, went to Syria where she toured Ottoman reception rooms. She shared her vast knowledge with us during the press preview.
Thomas Campbell, the Director of the Met.
Mr. Campbell has been at the helm of the $50 million renovation for the last several years. The gallery reinstallation project was initiated under Philippe de Montebello, Director Emeritus, who oversaw its early development along with Mahrukh Tarapor, former Associate Director for Exhibitions and Director for International Affairs.
The Moroccan Courtyard.
This is how the Moroccan Courtyard looked in May when I photographed it. Members of the press were treated to a lunch with Met Director Tom Campbell, which was followed by a tour of the Islamic Galleries, then under construction.
Detail of the intricate ivory carving.
A gurgling fountain on the floor in the center of The Moroccan Courtyard.
In this photograph of the glass case, you can more easily see the real size of the Mango-shaped Flask that is depicted on one of the large posters on Fifth Avenue.
Mango-shaped Flask
India, Mughal period (1526-1858), mid 17th century

Rock crystal inlaid with gold, inset with gold, enamel, rubies crystal; and emeralds
Gallery 463: Mughal South Asia (16th-19th centuries). My assistant Maria Escalante is admiring the beautiful carpets.
Another view of Gallery 463.
Decorative ceiling lamps in one of the galleries.
Walter Robinson, editor of ArtNet Magazine, and artist Paul Smith. Mr. Smith often writes for Art in America under the byline of P.C. Smith.
Writing Box
India, Gujarat or Pakistan, Sind, Mughal period
(1526-1858), late 16th century--early 17th century
Wood; overlaid with ivory and sadeli

The surfaces of this writing box are veneered with ebony and inlaid with ivory and sadeli, a type of micromosaic in use since antiquity. It is associated with the eastern Mediterranean region, from where it spread to Iran and India. This technique consists of binding together sections of diverse materials (tin, wood, ivory, bone, etc.) which are sliced transversely and formed into thin sheets of repeating pattern that are adhered to a wooden support.
You are looking into Gallery 462: Safavid and Later Iran (16th-20th centuries).
Beautiful wall tiles.
Plait Ornament (Jadanagam)
India, probably Chennai (formerly Madras)
18th-19th century
Gold, inset with rock crystals, rubies, emeralds, and amethysts.
Man's Robe (jama)
India, Deccan, Burhanpur or Hyderabad, 17th century
Cotton; painted with applied gold leaf

The man's robe, called a "jama" is decorated with delicate pink flowers painted individually by hand and outlined in gold leaf. Gold leaf is also lavished on the collar and lappets which tie at the side of the chest. As seen in contemporary portraits, this type of garment was worn at courts throughout India, calf-length in the seventeenth century and ankle-length in the eighteenth-century, but the painstaking method of painting the design on the cloth associate this robe with the Deccan, in central India.
Folio from the Shah Jahan Album
Painter: Mansur (active ca. 1599-1626)
Calligrapher: 'Ali Heravi (d. ca. 1550)
India, Mughal period (1526-1828), ca. 1620
Ink, opaque, watercolor, and gold on paper

The nilgai, though known as a blue bull, is a type of antelope found in central and northern India and eastern Pakistan. This study was painted by Mansur, probably after observing the animal in Jahangir's (r. 1605-27) zoological garden. While great detail is lavished on the depiction of the animal, down to the distinctive swirl of hair where his neck meets his body, the background makes no reference to the nilgai's natural habitat. As in portraits of people, a neutral or harmonious setting prevailed in Mughal's paintings.
Spotted Forktail
Folio from the Shah Jahan Album
Painter: Abu'l Hasan (active ca. 1600-30)
India, Mughal period (1526-1828), ca. 1620
Ink, opaque, watercolor, and gold on silk

Jahangir (r. 1605-27) ordered this portrait of a spotted forktail from Abu'l Hasan, the artist upon whom he bestowed the honorific title "Wonder of the Age." The inscription states that the emperor's servant hunted this particular bird but does not say whether they killed it or merely captured it before it was portrayed. The silk ground adds a particular luster to the painting, further enhanced by the bird's shiny eye, which contains glittering chips of a reflective material, probably mica.
Barrymore Lawrence Scherer from The Wall Street Journal

"I am gobsmacked by it all. The carpets, the metalwork, the magnificent ivory carvings, enameled glass, and resplendent illuminated manuscripts. The overwhelming richness and abundance of this collection and the beauty with which it is displayed make these galleries the Met's new Eastern counterpart to the Cloisters."
India, northern Deccan, ca. 1628-58
Cotton with painted decoration and metal-wrapped thread fringe
Head of Krishna: Cartoon for a Mural of the Racial
Painter: attributed to Sahib Ram
India, Rajasthan, Jaipur, ca. 1800
Ink and opaque watercolor on paper

This drawing is thought to have been a preparatory study for a mural. Although it first served as a pounce--its lines were pricked with tiny holes to allow the image to be transferred to a wall--it was later reworked into a finished drawing by Sahib Ram, who strengthened its outlines, whited out areas he wished to change, and brushed Krishna's skin and clothing with luminous washes of watercolor. The drawing is based on an earlier work by Sahib Ram that shows a dancing girl dressed as Krishna.
A Syce Holding Two Carriage Horses
Painter: attributed to Shaikh Muhammad Amir of Karraya
(active 1830s-40s)
India, Calcutta, British period (1858-1947), ca. 1845
Opaque watercolor on paper

This near-mirror image of a syce, or a groom, flanked by almost identical horses has a hypnotic and disquieting quality. The strict symmetry is relieved, however, by the subtle differences in the sizes, proportions, and harnessing of the horses, as well as by slight left-right variations in the posture and dress of the groom. Although the color is severely restricted, the artist has beautifully realized the feel of Indian light, and the low horizon line makes both the space and foreground trio appear truly monumental. The painting's beauty and subtlety testify to the high quality that late Company School artists could attain.
Gold jewelry from India, Tamil Nadu, Chetier, late 19th century.

From left to right: Jasmine-bud Necklace (with rubies), Marriage Necklace and Ear Pendant.
Fruit Bat
Painter attributed to circle of Bhwani Das
India, Calcutta, ca. 1777-82
Pencil, ink, and opaque watercolor on paper

The subject of this painting is the great Indian fruit bat shown frontally with one wing outstretched and the other folded. The body is depicted in considerable detail, with the fur, claws, veins, and sexual organs articulated in shades of brown and gray.
BBC contributor Michael Maher. Maharaja Sardar Singh of Bikaner
Painter: Chotu
India, Rajasthan, Bikaner, ca. 1860-70
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Finial in the form of a Parrot
Northern India, 17th-18th century

I love this bird. A replica of it is on sale in the gift shop.
Dagger with Zoomorphic Hilt
India, Deccan, Bijapur or Golconda, second half of the 16th century
Hilt: gilt copper, ruby
Blade: steel, gilt copper

Portraits of Sultan 'Ali' Adil Shah of Bijapur (r.1558-80) show him wearing daggers with zoomorphic hilts similar to this one. In this superlative, ruby-studded hilt, a dragon, whose tail wraps around the grip, attacks a lion, which in turn attacks a deer, symbolism associated with the deity Garuda. Before the deer is a parrot-like bird with a snake in its beak. Lower down on the hilt is the head of a yali, a mythical lion-like animal, with floral scrolls issuing from its mouth.
Fish-shaped Box
India, Lucknow or Hyderabad, 19th century
Zinc, allow; cast, engraved, inlaid with silver and brass (bidri ware).

Although the technique of inlaying metal known as bidri was invented in the Deccan in the seventeenth century, and Hyderabad remained a center for this type of metal work into the 1800s, Lucknow, in northeastern India, also became an important center for production of bidri ware in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

My advice to you: Don't attempt to consume this show in one gulp.

Click here for Part II, Opening Night ...

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.