Opulence and Fantasy: Met’s ‘Sultans of Deccan India’ A Very Rich Trove

Tree-on-the-Island-of-Waqwaq. Golconda, early 17th century Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin The talking tree from the Alexander legend in Persian literature told the hero of his impending fate. While conventional imagery depicts a tree with branches terminating in animal heads, this Deccan version shows greater imagination. The tree trunk is composed of snakes, its branches bear a large variety of animal and fantastical heads, and its fruit takes the form of nude women. Animate rocks sprout fish, and magical flowers are made up of masks with moth and butterfly leaves. This painting was once in the collection of the Frenchman Colonel Antoine-Louis Henri de Polier (1741–1795) in Lucknow, where it was mounted in an album with Europeanized Rococo borders

In Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy next week (Mon April 20 through Sun July 26) the Met will unfurl one of its most magnificent displays of unique, exquisite and sometimes unexpectedly flamboyant rarities.

Like the highest art of every realm, this selection of jewelry, paintings, textiles, armor, carved stone sculpture, fabled gems, marbelized art, carved weapons and decorative items from India’s pre-colonial peak of maharajah display can provide a spiritual experience.

Refreshing the urban spirit

This exquisite assembly will refresh and feed any spirit starved of grace in the tumult of modern urban materialism with manna from above. Yet, as is typical of Indian art, it celebrates nature rather than rises above it.

A prime example is the ink, watercolor and gold painting on paper above, from Golconda. Click twice to enlarge it to mammoth proportions (3000×3795) and allow your eye and sensibilities to luxuriate in its lively perfection.

Visitors should allow plenty of time to let serendipity work, for all the generalizations about its excellence which will fill the media and the brief descriptions offered in advance by the Met and the critics won’t be complete enough to spoil the many surprising discoveries awaiting the slow moving, attentive art lover.

The $65 catalogue deserves a special mention. More than most shows at the Met, which are always the cream of the museum world, the well written and illustrated volume will be entirely worth the price as both guide and reference.

Huge variety of very fine works

From the heart of the fabled central India mineral kingdom, whose diamonds and other precious stones were the prime source of jewelry till recent times, come wonderful works, in which the artistry and craft often exceed the value of the most valuable gems on show here, which themselves are worth a maharajah’s ransom.

16. Royal Elephant and Rider resupplied as a size 2.1mb image here and displayed at  600x815 - but the Met regretted was not available at larger more detailed size of 300 dpi because not originally supplied to the Communications Department at that larger size

16. Royal Elephant and Rider redone as 2.1mb here displayed at 600×815 – but unfortunately in this particular case not available at a larger more detailed size of 300 dpi, which would show the very detailed brushwork.

Yogini with Mynah Bird

Yogini with a Mynah Bird By the Dublin Painter Bijapur, early 17th century Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper 17⅜ × 12⅝ in. (44 × 32 cm) Trustees of Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Image: © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur Ascribed to Farrukh Beg, in an inscription written by Muhammad Husain Zarin Qalam Bijapur, ca. 1595–1600 (painting); Agra, A.H. 1019 (A.D. 1610–11) (album page and inscription) Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio: 16⅝ × 10⅜ in. (42.3 × 26.5 cm) Náprstkovo Muzeum Asijských, Afrických a Amerických Kultur, Prague (A.12182)” width=”1334″ height=”2102

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur Ascribed to Farrukh Beg, in an inscription written by Muhammad Husain Zarin Qalam Bijapur, ca. 1595–1600 (painting); Agra, A.H. 1019 (A.D. 1610–11) (album page and inscription) Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio: 16⅝ × 10⅜ in. (42.3 × 26.5 cm) Náprstkovo Muzeum Asijských, Afrických a Amerických Kultur, Prague (A.12182)

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