The Mughal Empire, one of the wealthiest and most powerful dynasties the world has ever known, still captivates our imagination with tales of splendour and luxury.
For over 300 years (1526-1858), the Mughals dominated the Indian subcontinent and were renowned for their lavish lifestyle, love of beauty and vast collection of precious objects. Indeed, so astounded was the 17th-century British ambassador Thomas Roe at Emperor Jahangir dressed in all his finery, that Roe described the ruler as “the treasury of the world”.
Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum is showcasing Treasury of the World, a stunning collection of more than 400 exquisite, jewelled works of art – from household items to ornate necklaces and ceremonial swords – from the glorious era of Mughal-ruled India. The exhibition runs till June 27.
The painting here depicts Emperor Jahangir
(Image courtesy of The David Collection, Copenhagen)
Miniature Qur’an with a white
nephrite jade cover inlaid with
gold, and set with rubies
1674 – 1675
(Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait)
Important objects to the Muslim Mughals, such as this Qur’an, were elaborately decorated as a mark of respect for the holy book. The pendant case is decorated with precious stones and champlevé enamelling, which give the case its intricate detailing and vivid jewel-like colours.
Small bottle set with rubies,
emeralds and diamond
c. 1600 – 1633
Small bottles like these were most likely used for cosmetics. The entire surface of this bottle is lavishly set with rubies, emeralds and diamonds in gold.
Pair of toe rings set with rubies
c. late 17th – 18th century
Ladies of the Mughal court spent much time throughout the day beautifying themselves. They ornamented themselves lavishly, even adorning their toes with jewellery. The top of these toe rings are gem-set with rubies and gold, whilst the inside is intricately enamelled with motifs of four-petalled flowers.
Pendant with kundan setting
in rubies and emeralds on the
front; with pendant emerald
c. 1620 – 1650
Indian jewellery of the Mughal period was of
Pendant with cameo portrait
of the emperor Shah Jahan
set with rubies
c. 1650 – 1660
Drawing from the tradition of classical portrait cameos in Europe, this spectacular pendant features a cameo image of Shah Jahan carved in hardstone. The custom of presenting a pendant bearing the emperor’s image to favoured courtiers was instituted by Akbar, one of the Great Mughals.
Small bottle set with rubies, emeralds and diamond crystals
The owners of the collection, Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and his wife Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah
The exhibition is organised by The al-Sabah Collection, National Council for Culture, Arts & Letters, Kuwait, in collaboration with the Asian Civilisations Museum.
An average Indian makes 1/9 the price of this manhole cover
Turban ornament set with emeralds and diamonds
c. 1650 – 1700
This emerald and diamond turban ornament imitates the feathered aigrettes (long feathers worn on headdresses) traditionally worn by Indian nobility. The precious stones are set using the kundan setting technique – a quintessentially Indian technique of gem-setting, where hyper-refined gold foil is inserted between the gemstone and the mount, thus acting as a form of glue to hold the stone in place within the mount. This removed the need for solder, collets and claws to hold the stones down.
Bracelet set with rubies, diamonds and chrysoberyl cat’s eye
c. 1630 – 1650
Bangles that terminate in confronting animal heads were popular in Indian jewellery design. Makara (a mythical creature of Hindu origin) heads were popular motifs for bangles of this form. This particular bangle is adorned with enamelled tiger heads. The exterior is gem-set with rubies and diamonds, whilst the interior is adorned with champlevé enamelled floral scrolls
Dagger set with rubies, turquoises and emeralds
Late 16th – early 17th century
This dagger was stolen from The al-Sabah collection during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Six years later, it resurfaced in London at an auction. It was recognised, withdrawn from the auction and subsequently returned.
Dagger and scabbard set with rubies, diamonds, emeralds, ivory and agate
c. 1615 – 1620
This dagger is one of the exhibition’s most elaborate artefacts with gemstones set on gold backgrounds of engraved floral motifs. More than 2,400 precious stones – rubies, diamonds, emeralds, banded agate and ivory – of which 2,393 remain, were set on the hilt and scabbard. The hilt and pommel are reminiscent of a tree of life, covered with gem-set birds and flowers. The knuckle bow takes the form of an elegant horse head issuing from the mouth of a makara – a design of typical Hindu inspiration.
Finger ring with rotating and bobbing bird set with rubies, emeralds, chrysoberyl’s cat’s eyes, diamonds and a single sapphire
c. 1600 – 1625
Three-dimensional sculptural forms display yet another aspect of the Indian artisans’ talent. This finger ring features a bird that can rotate and bob – possibly providing hours of entertainment for its owner!
Gunpowder flask overlaid with gold
c. 1625 – 1650
Gold was popularly used to decorate the Damascus steel commonly used in Mughal weaponry. This steel gunpowder flask is overlaid with gold, which stands out beautifully against the darker steel.
Mouthpiece for a waterpipe (huqqa)
Late 17th – 18th century
A huqqa (water-pipe) was traditionally offered to guests as a gesture of hospitality. The mouthpieces were removable and were usually not shared by smokers. Artisans created luxurious gem-set and enamelled pieces like these for wealthy patrons.
Inscribed royal spinel (‘balas ruby’)
1. Timurid, Ulugh Beg (before 1449)
2. Safavid, Shah Abbas I (1617)
3. Mughal, Jahangir (1621)
4. Mughal, Shah Jahan (undated)
5. Mughal, Alamgir (Aurangzeb) (1659 – 1660)
6. Durrani, Ahmad Shah (1754 – 1755)
The Mughal emperors were renowned connoisseurs and collectors of gemstones. In a tradition believed to have been adopted from their Timurid ancestors, they inscribed their names onto the most exquisite gems as a mark of appreciation for the quality and value of the stones. This ruby spinel, weighing 249.3 carats, is inscribed with the names of Timurid, Safavid and Mughal rulers ranging from the mid-15th to mid-18th centuries.
Inkstand set with rubies and emeralds
The calligraphic arts were an important part of Mughal court life. This object comprises a cylindrical container for ink, and a matching pen case for the calligrapher’s reed pen. Carved from pale nephrite jade, it is set with emeralds and rubies in a delicate floral pattern.
Spoon set with rubies and emerald
c. 1600 – 1650
This spoon is inlaid with gold, adorned with rubies and emeralds and carved out of nephrite jade in the form of a bird.