We are incredibly fortunate here in Kansas City to have an amazing exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins Museum running through June 14th. From the Land of the Taj Mahal is a collection of court paintings from the Mughal Emperors of India on loan from the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The Mughal dynasty ruled much of southeast Asia from 1526 – 1857 AD.
These incredibly colorful, detailed and revealing miniature paintings are basically pages from albums commissioned by two of India’s most powerful leaders, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, who is best known for building the Taj Mahal.
These albums contained portraits of family, friends, servants and animals. They included folk tales and recreations of significant events in the lives of the rulers. They were personal and private. They were, in essence, scrapbooks.
They just happened to be scrapbooks created by some of the most talented artists of their time and place. The curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Kimberly Masteller, explained that artists would have focused on their strengths; some focused on calligraphy, others painting figures and others still would work on the intricate borders.
The exhibit is beautifully laid out and the museum has provided magnifying glasses so you can study the detail of the paintings. There are stools placed throughout so children can see more closely. These manuscripts have rarely been on view and it is my understanding that it’s quite unlikely they will return to the States anytime soon.
Chester Beatty, by the way, was a New Yorker who made his fortune in mining in Cripple Creek, Colorado. A collector from a young age, he eventually focused his passion on rare books and paintings, especially those from Asia, the Middle East and Egypt. He lived for a while in London then moved to Ireland where he established the Library to house his collection.
You can click on the images here to see them larger and the Nelson’s site has a great selection of the paintings with details of the subject matter and the ability to zoom in on the details. Several programs are available that support the exhibit. Members can enjoy the exhibit for free; admission for adult non-members is $8.
All images courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.