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by Hillary Koerner, student writer


Honolulu has just two weeks left to experience Muraqqa’, a rare collection of what experts at the Academy of Arts call some of the finest Indian painting in the world.
On view through March 1, “The exhibition comes from Chester Beatty’s private collection in Dublin,” said Shawn Eichman, Curator of Asian Art. “[Beatty] started off working in the mines in Colorado and made a significant fortune in the late 19th century,” continued Eichman, explaining that Beatty built his collection—now the Chester Beatty Library—while living in London and then Dublin, Ireland.
“ I think it’s a really fascinating story,” Eichman added, “that someone who started working as a low-level miner could end up forming one of the world’s great private libraries.”
The Honolulu exhibition includes 86 works of art, most from the early 17th century, according to Eichman:. “The earliest is from the 15th century, and it’s not from India. It’s Persian, from Central Asia.”
Muraqqa’ is the Persian word for “patchwork” or patched “garment.” It was applied to the Indian albums of paintings from the Mughal period because of their patchwork construction. Each page consists of numerous ornately decorated pieces of paper, miniature paintings, pasted together to form a single sheet.
The small paintings were commissioned by the Mughal emperors Jahangir (ruled 1605-1627) and his son Shah Jahan (ruled 1627-1658) who commissioned the Taj Mahal. India’s greatest artistic production of individual paintings was during the reigns of these two emperors.
The Academy’s display includes formal portraits of the Mughal emperors in different stages of their lives, depictions of members of the royal family in relaxed, private settings, portraits of courtiers, Sufi saints and mystics, genre scenes, and natural history subjects.
“ The paintings are portraits,” said Eichman. “Everyone is identifiable.” He added that “The use of gold in these paintings is quite remarkable.” Real gold was ground into a powder, he explained. “They used gold powder and mixed it with glue.” Then they “took a pin and pricked the gold, or used a dull knife. It creates a brighter gold.”
Two of the albums exhibited were part of the emperors’ private library and were passed down to their successors. They are part of the historical record of each emperor’s reign, and some even contain editorial contents in an emperor’s own handwriting.
“ It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Eichman, who added: “This is the first time since Chester Beatty bought these paintings that they’ve ever traveled together. It will probably be another 100 years before they travel again.”


 

 

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