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Exhibitions: the Al Thani Collection arrives in Venice

Turban Jewel of Maharaja of Nawanagar

For the first time in Italy, fabulous XVI-XX century Indian jewels and gems arrive in Venice with the Treasures of the Mughals and the Maharajas: The Al Thani Collection exhibition.


Palazzo Ducale, Venice


Promoted by Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and presented against a stunning and ethereal backdrop in the Doge’s Palace, Venice, the exhibition Treasures of the Mughals and of the Maharajas – The Al Thani Collection will give the Italian public the first-ever opportunity to admire nearly 300 pieces from the precious collection assembled by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the Qatari Royal Family.




Palazzo Ducale, Venice


Splendid gems, precious stones, old and legendary jewels, together with contemporary creations, take on a journey through five centuries of pure beauty and undisputed artisanal excellence, sign of the glorious Indian tradition: from Genghis Khan and Tamerlane’s descendants to the great Maharajas who, in the XX century, commissioned exquisite and extraordinary jewels to the most important European jewellery Maisons, and to Cartier in particular.

The curators of the exhibition are Amin Jaffer, Senior Curator of The Al Thani Collection, and distinguished Italian scholar of East Asian art Gian Carlo Calza; Gabriella Belli has been appointed the academic director.

From Golconda diamonds to beautiful Badakhshan spinels and the enchanting hues of Kashmir sapphires, together with rubies from Ceylon and Burma, as well as pearls from the Persian Gulf: all is there to celebrate an extraordinary jewellery tradition, remarkably refined artistic taste and perfected technique.

When the Mughal rulers rose to power in the 16th century, their master jewellers elevated their craft to an incomparable art form in its own right. The Mughals developed their own style and disseminated it across India from the first years of the dynasty, but it is to the fourth and fifth Mughal emperors that we owe the golden age of patronage when jewellers crafted marvellous creations that merged exceptional quality gems with both Eastern and Western art and culture.

In India, jewellery is about more than embellishment. Every gem has its own meaning that refers to a cosmic purpose or invokes a favourable horoscope. In popular culture, particular forms of jewellery suggest the rank, caste, region of birth, marital status or wealth of the wearer. Precious metals and gemstones have also been used in the adornment of courtly rooms, as well as in ceremonial dresses, weapons and furnishings. 

The Venice exhibition is an incredible journey into the universe of Indian jewellery from the 16th century to the present day. The route is marked by the milestones of this art, which has never ceased to amaze and fascinate Western minds.

In the following video, at the time when the exhibition was at the Grand Palais in Paris, Amin Jaffer beautifully illustrates the romantic journey that one will experience by visiting the exhibition:





The exhibition opens with an evocation of the Mughal treasury, focused particularly on inscribed dynastic gems. 

Visitors will be guided through the treasures of The Al Thani Collection as they admire the extraordinary assortment of dynastic gems, beginning with two particularly famous diamonds. They are The Idol’s Eye, the world’s biggest cut blue diamond; and Arcot II, one of the two diamonds given to Queen Charlotte – wife of King George III (1738-1820) – by Muhammad ‘Ali Wallajah, Nawab of Arcot (1717-1795). Both diamonds come from the legendary mines of Golconda.


The Idol's Eye
The Idol’s Eye
70.2 ct, H. 2.6 cm; W. 2.8 cm; D. 1.3 cm
The Idol’s Eye is the largest cut blue diamond in the world and has been recorded as such since the mid 19th century. Romantic stories often get attached to prestigious or legendary diamonds and the name the Idol’s Eye derives from the legend that it was torn from the eye of a statue of a Hindu deity venerated in a temple in India – a rumour that has never been substantiated.
© The Al Thani Collection


The Arcot II
The Arcot II
India, c. 1760
Modified 1959 and 2011
Grade D, internally flawless
H 2.6 cm, W 1.6 cm, D 0.6 cm
weight 17.21 ct
© The Al Thani Collection


These unique jewels are displayed together with emeralds and spinels, some of which are engraved with the names and titles of the rulers who owned them.


Seal ring of the Nizam of Hyderabad
Seal ring of the Nizam of Hyderabad
Gold ring and retractable key with engraved spinel dated 1884-5, Hyderabad
© The Al Thani Collection


Mughal artistic taste is a key element of the exhibition, as is the dialogue the Mughals engaged with Europe throughout stylistic and technical exchanges beginning in the Renaissance. The strength of the bond between Europe and India is testified by the frequent use of enamelling in Indian jewellery, a technique inspired by Renaissance courts.


Pendant Al Thani Collection
India, c. 1575–1625
Pearl, gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, glass, enamels, lac
H. 6.6 cm; W. 5.2 cm;
Bibl. Moscow 2014, p. 203, no. 112; Miho 2016, p. 57, no. 31
This pendant, in the form of a figure modelled around a baroque pearl, represents a fine example of the dialogue between Italy and India in the jewelled arts at the time of the Renaissance. Using gems in Indian kundan settings, the pendant may have been made by a European goldsmith working in India. The figure may be a snake god, Nagadevata. The Nagas were semi-divine, with a human face and the neck of a cobra. The large pearl came to India through trade, either from the Pacific Ocean or from waters off the coast of America. The composition of the pendant is directly inspired by sixteenth-century Italian prototypes and reflects Mughal interests in the arts of the West.
© 2017 The Al Thani Collection


Jade and rock crystal were also highly prized at the Mughal court, and the second section of the exhibition displays some fascinating examples. In Islamic culture, jade was understood to invoke victory and was also believed to detect and counteract poison.

The Wine Cup of Emperor Jahangir, inscribed with verses of Persian poetry and the titles of the monarch, is considered the earliest dated Mughal jade. The Shah Jahan dagger (1620-1625) bears the title of the emperor inscribed on its blade while the jade hilt depicts the head of a youth, considered to be a masterpiece of Mughal courtly art.


The Wine Cup of Jahangir
The Wine Cup of Jahangir
North India, dated AH 1016 (AD 1607–8)
H 5.5 cm, diameter 7.4 cm
© The Al Thani Collection


The Shah Jahan Dagger
The Shah Jahan Dagger
North India
Hilt 1620–25. Blade 1629–36
Hilt: jade. Blade: watered steel
H 29.7 cm, hilt H 11.1 cm,
head W 2.4 cm
Inscribed in Persian: Second Lord of the Auspicious Conjunction 2 or 9
© The Al Thani Collection


Indian jades were also highly sought after in China. This can be seen, for instance, in an elegant cup made between 1660 and 1680, decorated with an ibex head and featuring an engraved poem written by Emperor Qianlong in the late 18th century.


Cup North India, 1660–80
North India, 1660–80
Jade, rubies; foot with silver support ring
H. 2.5 cm; L. 8.4 cm; W. 6.1 cm
This delicate jade cup with a handle carved in the head of an ibex was made at the Mughal court and subsequently formed part of the collection of the Qianlong Emperor of China, a connoisseur of Indian jades, who wrote a poem about the qualities of the piece with which it has been inscribed.
The cup recalls the famous wine cup belonging to Shah Jahan currently in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
© 2017 The Al Thani Collection


Indian jewels are characterized by the use of very refined polychrome enamels and by the distinctive Kundan technique, which allows gems to be set in gold without the use of a prong. Instead, strips of malleable pure gold are used to fashion the mount, forming a molecular bond around the gem.


Pair of bangles, probably Jaipur or Bikaner
Pair of bangles, probably Jaipur or Bikaner
Gold on a lac core, enamelled and with rubies, spinels, diamonds and pearls in Kundan (pure gold) settings
© The Al Thani Collection


The third section of the exhibition will display a selection of artefacts made with these two procedures and coming from various regions of the Indian subcontinent.

One of these objects is the extraordinary Pen Case and Inkwell (Deccan or North India, 1575-1600), made from solid gold and encrusted with precious gems. Objects like this one were often used by high-ranking court functionaries to write imperial decrees and they are represented in many paintings. The object is a unique survival although images of this form are seen in contemporary miniature paintings.


Pen Case and Inkwell
Deccan or North India, 1575-1600
Palazzo Ducale Venice
© 2017 The Al Thani Collection


Another masterpiece of this section is the tiger-head Finial from the throne of Tipu Sultan, made for the ruler’s accession to power. This gold-encrusted and gem-set throne was dismantled after Tipu was killed by British forces who conquered his capital at Seringapatam in 1799. Some of its components ended up in the British Royal Collection while others, like this finial, have resurfaced only recently.


Finial from the Throne of Tipu Sultan
Finial from the Throne of Tipu Sultan
Mysore, c. 1787–93
Plinth c. 1800
Gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, lac
Plinth: black marble, gilt metal
H 17.1 cm
Finial H 6.8 cm, W 5.4 cm, D 5.5 cm Plinth H 10.3 cm, W 10 cm, D 10 cm
© The Al Thani Collection


Built around regalia and ornaments, the fourth section offers a variety of striking items, including a number of turban ornaments dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries. This part of the exhibition highlights expressions of power in a courtly context, whether under the Mughal influence or that of the East India Company and British Raj. 


Turban Ornament India, c. 1900
Turban Ornament
India, c. 1900
Clip, Cartier, Paris, 2012
Gold, silver, emerald, diamonds, pearl
H 11.7 cm, W 12.8 cm
© The Al Thani Collection
Turban Jewel of Maharaja of Nawanagar
Turban jewel of the Maharaja of Nawanagar, c.1925–35, India
Diamonds and sapphire in platinum
© The Al Thani Collection


Visitors will be also able to appreciate an extraordinary collection of diamond necklaces and other extraordinary jewelled articles like the sword of the Nizam of Hyderabad and the fabulous Canopy that formed a part of the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, commissioned by Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad between 1865 and 1870. The silk covering the deerskin is richly decorated with silver, gold, coloured glass, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and around 950,000 pearls. This exquisite item was intended to be placed inside the tomb of Prophet Mohamed in Medina, but the gift never left for its destination.


Sword of the Nizam of Hyderabad
Sword of the Nizam of Hyderabad
© The Al Thani Collection
Pearl Canopy detail
The Pearl Canopy of Baroda, Gujarat, India (close up)
The foundation of silk is densely embroidered overall with a design worked in strings of natural ‘Basra’ pearls, measuring approximately 1-3mm, and English coloured glass beads. Approximately 950,000 pearls and beads have been used to decorate the field. In Sotheby’s estimation, the number of pearls employed in the design is therefore at least 500,000-650,000. The rosettes are circled by small natural ‘Basra’ pearls of slightly larger size, measuring approximately 3-4 mm. The designs worked in the rosettes are set with over 200 table cut and occasional rose cut diamonds, all set in silver topped gold or possibly blackened gold; the motifs are further enhanced with approximately 700 foil backed rubies, emeralds and sapphires set in gold.
approximately 3ft. 11in. (1.19m.) diameter
circa 1865-70
Sold at Sotheby’s New York on 24 March 2011 for $2,322,500
The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace
The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace
India, 1850–75
Gold, diamonds, emerald, enamel
H 26 cm, W 19.6 cm
© The Al Thani Collection


It is then Europe’s turn to shine, with a selection of jewels from the leading Western houses, either designed for Indian princely courts or inspired by Indian jewellery. Visitors can feast their eyes on the sublime enamel peacock aigrette created by Mellerio dits Meller (Paris 1905) and bought by Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala.


Mellerio dits Meller, Paris, 1905
Gold, platinum, diamonds, enamel
H 15.5 cm, W 6 cm
© The Al Thani Collection


Maharaja Bhupinder of Patiala was a particularly important patron and an idea of his taste is evident from the ruby choker made by Cartier for one of his wives. This section will also feature two of the most fascinating Cartier creations for Maharaja Digvijaysinhji – heir of Maharaja Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar – a fine connoisseur of precious stones himself and a close friend of Jacques Cartier: the marvellous Tiger Eye, a gold-coloured diamond mounted into a turban ornament; and a remarkable Art Deco necklace made with rubies belonging to Nawanagar’s collection.


The Maharani of Patiala’s Choker
Cartier Paris, 1931; restored and restrung to the original design by Cartier Tradition, Geneva, 2012
Rubies, diamonds, pearls; platinum settings
H. 2.2 cm; L. 33.3 cm
This choker, a Westernized version of a traditional Indian guluband, is the smallest surviving component of a lavish matching set made by Cartier in 1931. The order was for Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala. The lion’s share of the lavish orders he placed with Cartier in 1925 and Boucheron in 1928 concerned men’s jewellery, but in 1931 he commissioned Cartier to make a series of pieces for the women in his family.
The exclusive use of rubies, combined here with pearls and diamonds, had no precedent in traditional Indian jewellery.
© 2017 The Al Thani Collection
The Tiger Eye Turban Ornament
Cartier London, 1937
Platinum, diamonds
Brooch: H. 12.7 cm; W. 6 cm; Weight of the Tiger Eye diamond: 61.50 ct
Although the Cartiers were never technically diamond merchants, the deals they made and the work they did with some of the finest stones in the world played a key role in developing the firm’s international stature. In 1937, Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar asked Cartier to set the ‘Tiger Eye’, an unusual cognac-coloured diamond discovered in 1913 and sold by the firm to his predecessor Maharaja Ranjisinhji. Cartier designed a turban ornament around the gem, using baguette-cut diamonds to create an Art Deco look for this traditional Indian jewellery form.
© 2017 The Al Thani Collection
The Nawanagar Ruby Necklace
The Nawanagar Ruby Necklace
Cartier, 1937
Platinum, rubies, diamonds
H 20.5 cm, W 19.5 cm
© The Al Thani Collection


The exhibition closes with a tribute to contemporary goldsmithing thanks to a display of Indian jewels and European jewels inspired by the Indian tradition.


Chocker Bulgari, 1978–82
Bulgari, 1978–82
Emeralds, India, c. nineteenth century
Gold, white gold, emeralds, pearls, diamonds, sapphires
L 40.6 cm, W 3.7 cm
© The Al Thani Collection


From his Mumbai studio, Viren Bhagat combines today’s materials and techniques with ancestral forms and motives. His works are placed side by side with Cartier and JAR creations that incorporate historic Indian gems.


Pair of Bangles (kada) by Bhagat
Pair of Bangles (kada) by Bhagat, 2012
Platinum, set with diamonds and pearls; Each: Diam. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Al Thani Collection
Earrings JAR
Earrings, by JAR, Paris, 2010
Pearls, spinels and diamonds in silver and gold © The Al Thani Collection


A magical collection of unrivalled magnificence, an enchanting story covering five centuries of design and beauty, telling the story of the relationship between Eastern and Western culture and society, with all the symbolism, rituals and beliefs coming from the Indian world. CC


9 September 2017 – 3 January 2018 / Venice, Palazzo Ducale, Scrutinio Room
Opening Hours: 8.30 am – 7 pm (last admission 6 pm)
Palazzo Ducale San Marco,1 30135 Venezia
Phone +39 041 2715911
Fax. +39 041 5285028


For additional information, and to experience an immersive 360 degrees exhibition visit, you are welcome to visit the Al Thani Collection website.


Material Courtesy of Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and of Villaggio Globale International Press Offices




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