In Brief: Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts

This past weekend, I had the good fortune to be able to visit the San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s current, excellent, exhibition: Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts (on view through April 2012). This show is a somewhat smaller version of the 2009 version put on by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Poshak (costume for a woman). About 1900. Silk brocade with gold thread, base metal and sequins. Private Collection. (via Asian Art Museum)

Each piece in the show is impressive: sumptuous materials, exquisite details and extravagant design make obvious that the Maharaja’s were a VERY wealthy bunch. By examining their lives as a whole, the objects included provide a cohesive picture of their worlds and lives.

Objects included in the exhibition include paintings, thrones, regal accessories, men’s and women’s costumes, and LOTS of jewelry, furniture, musical instruments, games and much more. Some of the most physically impressive objects include a full size all-silver carriage, an elephant throne and some of the biggest diamonds and sapphires I’ve ever seen (many many by Cartier). Everywhere you looked were examples of fine craftsmanship, and nearly everything was gilded, embroidered or otherwise embellished to emphasize wealth and power.

Necklace. Cartier Paris, special order, 1928. Reconstructed with some substitute stones in 2002. Platinum, diamonds, yellow zirconia, white zirconias, topazes, synthetic rubies, smoky quartz, citrine. Created for Sir Bhupindra Singh, Maharaja of Patiala. Nick Welsh, Cartier Collection © Cartier.

One word of advice though – take a magnifying glass to truly appreciate some of the amazingly small and detailed paintings (similar to detail to the recent illuminated manuscripts exhibition at the Getty). The exhibition itself was well-thought out, and the (free) audio-tour was great. The show included several informative videos that provided good context for the show, and the audio-tour offered additional videos if you wanted more information.

Can’t make it to see the show? You’re in luck, there is an exhibition catalog of the V & A’s version of the show (which I sensibly purchased). There’s also an audio-tour that you can easily download through iTunes.

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