Plunged in the dark night, under the spectacular effect of a shower of shooting stars, the Grand Palais in Paris, radiates the jewels of the golden age of the Indian courts: finery as extravagant as refined, signs Power and protection. The rivers of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and fine pearls were worn by men and , in long jumps of multiple ranks, stuck on turbans, held in pendants, belts, ankles, fingers. Their striking portraits mark the course.
Until June 5, the exhibition of 270 pieces opens with large engraved emeralds, including that of Shah Jahan, dated 1621. The route tells five centuries of India’s history of the Mughals and the Maharajahs. The Persian influence in Indian art is highlighted, served by the inventiveness and virtuosity of the goldsmiths of the subcontinent, who will seduce far beyond the Indus. The French jewelers were inspired throughout the first half of the twentieth century: the Eye of the Tiger, a large yellow diamond with a pomp of white diamonds, to be stitched on a turban, was signed by Cartier in 1937.
Most of these jewels come from one of the finest Indian jewelery collections, that of Sheikh Hamad Ben Abdullah Al-Thani, a cousin of the Emir of Qatar. They were gathered by Amin Jaffer, co-curator of the exhibition and personal adviser of the sheikh, whom he accompanied in 2011, for his first visit to India, then in 2013 and 2016. From these journeys, Illustrates this dazzling collection of unfathomable variety, from jewelery to daggers, daggers, betel boxes, wine cups, footrests, rosewater sprinklers, fly-chisels, backpacks, games Chess and elephant fang.
‘Amina Taha-Hussein Okada, general curator at the National Museum of Asian Art Guimet (MNAAG) and co-curator of the exhibition at the Grand Palais, says,’ Sir Hamad, ” Amin Jaffer buys a lot and very well. Born in Kigali (Rwanda) in the late 1960s, Amin Jaffer, who claims his Indian origins from Bhuj in Gujarat, wrote a thesis on Indian furniture of the 18th and 19th centuries. He entered the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as a curator and then was debauched by Christie’s auction house as director of the international art department of Asia, before becoming the personal adviser to the Sheikh Qatari.
Opening the exhibition with Shah Jahan announces the quality of the works. The Mughal emperor, a sponsor of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, is a world star. The palace of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, which he had erected as a mausoleum by his beloved wife, who died in childbirths of their fourteenth child, became the emblem of the country. Alongside its 211.7 carat emerald, its archer ring, known as the ‘second master of the happy conjunction’, according to the Persian inscription it carries, is made of diamonds, gold, rubies and emeralds. Ring that the warriors wore on the thumb to protect him from the bite of the rope of their bow. There is also the necklace of spinels, pearls, rubies and diamonds of Shah Jahan, engraved in the name of this descendant of Babur, founder in 1526 of the Mughal empire, himself of the lineage of Genghis Khan by his mother, and Of Tamerlane, by his father.
Agra, a diamond of 28.15 carats, an intense pink, dates from before 1526. It was reworked in the 1880s and 1990s.
This madness for gems perpetuated in Indian courts for centuries was fueled by the precious stones richness of the subcontinent. The diamond rivers came from the mines of Golconda, east of Hyderabad, whose nizam (local ruler) was among the richest in India. An imperial decree obliged the merchants to offer the monarch, in priority, the stones of more than five carats. Until the discovery of diamonds in Brazil in the 1730s, it was from Golconda that the most beautiful came: Mirror of Paradise, 3.5 cm high, of absolute purity; Diamond portrait size (1650-1700), Agra rose (1526), reworked in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; Arcot II (1760) offered to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. After making several trips to Golconde, from 1640, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier had an engraving showing the twenty most beautiful diamonds he had brought. Louis XIV bought him the whole on his return to France in 1668.
The biggest emeralds were imported from Colombia by the Portuguese, who traded in Goa, on the west coast. Considered as talismans by sultans and maharajahs, they served as an antidote to poison, and their brilliance was supposed to blind serpents. He who wore the ruby, the color of blood, was protected from sickness and misfortune. ‘An ancient belief, based on the Vedic idea of the transmutation of divine bodies into precious minerals,’ notes Amina Taha-Hussein Okada. The texts say that the demon Bala, or Vajra, was thunderstruck by the gods and that his mortal remains delivered ‘mountains of precious stones’. From his bones was born the diamond, his teeth, the pearls, his blood, the ruby, his bile, the emerald, and his eyes the sapphire.
At the Grand Palais, all the mythology of India is told, dreamlike and exuberant. Even today, the Indians carry heavy jewels – their fortune and their status – to the fields in whirlwinds of flaming sails.