Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Scattering of Legacy


There is intriguingly, a rare documentary reference to a whistle made in rock crystal, gold and gems which, in March 1628, was part of the cargo on board the Portuguese ship the Born Jesus do Monte Calvario, leaving Goa bound for Lisbon.
Jewels are links with the past. For in these small objects of beauty is consecrated the chronicle of a culture, of human life, of love and wealth. In jewels arc enshrined the pride of power and the sovereignty of kingdoms. The jewels of India, from the ubiquitous little bead to splendid gem-set ornaments, have played a pivotal role in the many events of India's long history.

If very few jewels have survived intact in India, even less is known of Indian jewels in collections overseas. Though the commerce in precious stones has been well documented, there is little documentation of ornaments that were made in India and exported, or even of the many jewels that were brought into India from England, Portugal, Holland and other European centres. Foreign emissaries to the Mughal courts vied with each other to hold the attention of the monarch with 'jeweils sett to sell'. Recommendations were made by agents to their principals to send forth beautiful items to capture the fancy of local rulers; there are many references in travel diaries and court chronicles to jewels from Europe being imported into Cambay and Surat. In turn, many a visitor to India is known to have received Indian-made jewellery as gifts from kings, or acquired it as a memento of his visit, as gifts for the family or just as curiosities to show fellow countrymen. Perhaps many such items are languishing in church, royal and private collections around the world, principally in Europe, unseen and unidentified, their importance unrecognized.

Traditionally worn by men on their wedding day, this necklace with diamonds, cabuchon rubies and emeralds closed-set in gold has no less than 536 diamonds. Few such ornaments survive today, partly because men no longer wear such ostentatious jewels, but more so because old pieces have been broken up and remade.
Ancient chronicles record the exchange of gem-set jewels between the kings of India and rulers of other countries. The Mahavamsa states, "the king of Sri Lanka, Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 B.C.) sent to Emperor Asoka various presents including sapphires, lapis lazuli, rubies and eight varieties of pearls which 'rose miraculously from the earth and the sea respectively'. The Zamorin of Calicut sent many splendid gifts of jewels to the Queen of Portugal. Humayun in exile offered the legendary Koh-i-Nur diamond to Shah Tahmasp as an expression of gratitude for his hospitality, and Jahangir sent innumerable gifts to his contemporaries in Persia and in return records the receipt of a large inscribed ruby set in a jigha or turban ornament, from Shah Abbas of Persia.

The 1587 inventory of Queen Elizabeth I of England lists a rock-crystal bangle "sett with sparckes of Rubies powdered and little sparckes of saphiers made hoopewise called Persia worke." Reputed to have been sent as a gift by Emperor Akbar, it is one of the few surviving early Indian jewels recorded in an European collection. It is rumoured that the renowned wealth of the  Mughal treasury was envied by so many, that Queen Elizabeth I expressed her willingness to become Akbar's concubine, in return for a share of the gems therein Jewels of Indian origin once graced the treasuries of many a European monarch, and especially those who were principal trading partners with India.

Sheet gold set with rubies, diamonds and pearls and encrusted with minute gold granules; this ornament formed part of the collection of 'Surat curiosities' gifted to the Stadholder in The Hague.
Merchants and agents of European powers as Well as senior operatives of the East India, Company procured souvenirs of Indian workmanship in exchange for novelties from their own country. Portuguese travellers returned to Lisbon with gifts of chains, necklaces and jewels as presents for their family and for their king. One Prester John is reputed to have sent a magnificent crown of gold and silver to the king of Portugal in 1487. Dom Afonso de Albuquerque gifted a gold necklace set with thirty-five large rubies and no less than approximately one hundred and eighty rubies on the pendant to King Manuel in 1511. The 1522 inventory of the dowry of Princess Beatriz, daughter of King Manuel, records many fabulous jewels set with precious stones, all of Indian origin. One of these was a magnificent Indian necklace made up of eleven pieces, each set with tunny-five rubies and seventy-four pearls. Each of the eighteen pendants suspended along the edge contained one hundred and tarty-five small rubies surrounded by eight pearls, and the large central pendant bore a large ruby and thirty-eight pearls hanging from it. The total weight of this magnificent ornament was almost two hundred and seventy-six grams. 

Closely related to the whistle (plate 502), this rock-crystal Christian icon embellished with gold and gems is presumably of Indo-Portuguese workmanship. Indian craftsmen in Goa were commissioned to make such pieces to cater to the demand in Portugal. The inventory includes numerous other equally impressive necklaces and bracelets, including one set with rubies and diamonds with makara-head terminals.' The Marquis of Alorna, Portuguese viceroy in India, returned to Lisbon in 1751, with a splendid collection of Indian-made jewels. His inventory lists rings, pendants, cutlery and other jewelled objects. Gems and jewels sent to Lisbon in this manner are unquantifiable and their present whereabouts unknown. Similarly, inventories of the Prague Collections of Emperor Rudolf II, compiled in 1619 and 1621, record the entry of various objects including jewels of Indian origin into the collection.

To most of these European monarchs, India was a faraway, exotic and mystical land. When Indian objects including jewels arrived in Europe in the 16'h century, they were viewed with wonder for their fabulous gems and carefully preserved for their distinctness in 'cabinets of curiosities.' The cabinet of William V (1748-1806), the Stadholder in The Hague, received a collection of 'Surat curiosities' comprising thirty-three items of Indian jewellery in 1754 (498-500). The collection had been meticulously put together in Surat over a period of time, before being gifted to the Stadholder by Julius Valentijn Stein van Gollenesse, director-general of the Dutch East India Company between 1750-1755.9 An inventory of 1760 lists the jewels by their contemporary Gujarati names, providing a valuable documentation of forms, techniques and nomenclature in the Surat area in this period. 

Gold encrusted with rubies, emeralds and colourless sapphires; the original centre-piece was converted to a brooch by Cartier in the early 20th century, when diamond insets, pearls and two black beads were added. Made of sheet gold over a lac core, the majority of the items, with few exceptions in silver, are set with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and pearls. The absence of Mughal influence is marked, since none of the items are enamelled; however, in keeping with a tradition that is common to south India and the Malabar coast, the kundan setting of the stones is deeply defined, minute granules of gold are used to enhance surface ornamentation and the backs are decorated with floral patterns.

Such 'curiosities' also fetched a good price in European markets. Portuguese goldsmiths who lived and worked in Goa in the early 17th century catered to this export market. Combining Indian techniques wit Ii western specifications, these charming trinkets fuse gold, rock-crystal ( 502 ) and gems, primarily rubies set in lozenge-shaped gold collets. They throw light on the workmanship of this period.

In this portrait, the King-Emperor and Queen-Empress of India are attired in Indian clothes and decked in an array of traditional ornaments.Indian Maharajas were generous with their gifts to the reigning English monarch and gifted many a splendid gem and jewel as pledges of allegiance or just to win favour. King George III and Queen Charlotte received manifbld gifts from Indian rulers during their long reign from 1760-1820. Many of these items were sold after their death to Minden, Bridge & Rundell, the court jewellers, who recycled the stones into new settings. Notable among the gems were a large round diamond, presented by the Nizam Ali Cawn, and two large almond-shaped diamond drops presented by the Nawab of Arcot to Queen Charlotte.  The round diamond and the Arcot drops were subsequently set into a tiara by the Paris firm of LAcloche and were bought by Harry Winston in 1959, who used the three famous stones for rings.

The fashion for Indian jewellery was popularized by Queen Victoria, who had a taste for them but wore them for political reasons as well. When the Queen presented a collection of Indian jewellery to her daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra, on the occasion of her marriage to Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1863, the gifts "established gem-set and enamelled Indian jewellery as a fashionable as well as an aesthetic commodity, at once more ornamental and less barbaric than items such as tiger's claw trinkets. However, from one generation to another and even within the long reign of Queen Victoria itself, jewels were broken up, stones recycled and new stones combined with old ones to make up new pieces. This process, not peculiarly Indian, was quite universal. Thus, while stones might be of Indian origin, even among the European nobility, very few ornaments of Indian workmanship have survived.

Kundan -set pear-shaped diamonds terminate in large emerald beads, in these turn-of-the-century ornaments. Catering to the demands of their affluent clientele, Indian craftsmen fused traditional techniques with western designs and forms.Not to be outdone by 'mere' Maharajas, representatives of the English Crown in India amassed vast quantities of wealth in gems and jewels, which they sent back to England. These Nabobs, a term described by Lord Macaulay as people "of neither opulent or ancient families sent to the East at an early age and who returned with large fortunes which they exhibited insolently and spent extravagantly," transferred their money home in the form of gemstones and pearls." Robert Clive, perhaps the most venerable of all nabobs, and his son Edward Clive, assembled a collection of Indian art, including gem-set items acquired as booty and presents from local rulers during their stay in India. Robert Clive, especially, is reputed to have acquired many fabulous gems in India. In 1766 he even deputed an individual named Motte, "to purchase diamonds at Sam bhalpur on the Mahanadi."' In 1767, Clive left India carrying "a million for him, two diamond drops worth twelve thousand for the Queen, a scimitar, dagger and other matters covered with brilliants the King."

Writer – Usha R Bala Krishnan & Meera Sushil Kumar

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