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Dazzling illuminated manuscripts and bejewelled works of art from the Royal Collection go on display

Release date: Thursday, 23 July 2020


Outstanding examples from the Royal Collection’s holdings of South Asian works of art have gone on display in Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent  at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse. Visitors will see vivid depictions of the Mughal court, royal portraits, architectural studies and vibrant illustrations of Hindu epics from the area historically called India (now covered by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). Together with decorative arts, prints, drawings and photographs, these works explore the 400-year shared history of the British Monarchy and the rulers of South Asia.

The Mughal dynasty ruled between the 1500s and 1800s, and the Royal Collection’s holdings of Mughal works include the Padshahnama (‘Book of Emperors’), a chronicle commissioned by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah-Jahan (famous for commissioning the Taj Mahal) as a celebration of his reign and dynasty. It was presented to George III in 1798 by Lord Teignmouth, Governor-General of India, as a gift from the Nawab of Awadh. Teignmouth described the Padshahnama as ‘the most splendid’ manuscript he ever saw.

On display for the first time is an enamelled gold locket studded with diamonds and rubies which contains a miniature Quran measuring just 46 x 35mm. Dating from around 1700, the locket is said to have belonged to Zinat Mahal, wife of the last Mughal emperor, and was subsequently presented to Queen Victoria in the late 19th century. 

Queen Victoria received many illuminated royal letters from Indian rulers and gifts of paintings and manuscripts from South Asia, including a volume of her own published journals, The Queen’s Travels in Scotland and Ireland, translated into Hindi by the Maharajah of Benares. Victoria's interest in South Asian culture continued throughout her life. Her studies of the Hindustani language, undertaken in her seventies with her Indian secretary Abdul Karim, are recorded in her Hindustani diaries, which are displayed in the exhibition with her Hindustani phrasebook.

King George V and Queen Mary became the first reigning British monarch and consort to set foot on Indian soil when they visited as Emperor and Empress of India for a Coronation Tour in 1911–12. Queen Mary compiled albums and scrapbooks of the visit and acquired numerous South Asian works of art, including Queen Tissarakshita, 1911, by Abanindranath Tagore, founder of the Bengal School of Art.

Imtiaz Dharker, a British poet who grew up in Glasgow, has written new poetry in response to works in the exhibition and the stories behind their creation. Visitors to The Queen’s Gallery will be able to hear Imtiaz reading her poems on the exhibition’s multimedia guide.

Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent is at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse from 23 July 2020 to 31 January 2021.

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