Museum Treasure: The Holy Family

In a quiet bylane of Old Goa is The Museum of Christian Art. Perhaps the only one of its kind in Asia, the Museum showcases Indo-Portuguese art from the 16th to the 20th century.The Museum’s collection includes furniture, sculptures, ivory and metal artefacts, textiles, paintings and books from the 16th to the 20th century. On a visit to Goa last month, an afternoon spent at the Museum turned out to be the highlight of my entire trip.

The Museum’s collection is extremely well curated and presented. While it is difficult to choose a favourite among the ones I saw at the Museum, I had no hesitation in choosing one for today’s post on Christmas Eve.

“The Holy Family”, a 20th century set of ivory figurines mounted on wood, was donated to the Museum by the Albuquerques from Anjuna in Goa.

The Holy Family, Ivory, Jesus, Mary and Joseph

The Holy Family. Ivory and Wood. 2oth Century

While the 3 figures in the centre are very clearly Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus, I’m not sure who the two figures on the extreme right and left are. Maybe St. Anne and St. Joachim, Mary’s parents? I loved the delicate details of the figurines: the expression on both the women’s faces and drape of the robes, the look of wonder on Jesus’ face.

As always, whenever I see such exquisite works of art, I wonder who the artist was and what went through his/her mind while creating “The Holy Family”?

Dear reader, did you like these figurines as much as I did?

Wish you a very Happy Christmas :-)

The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.

Museum Treasure: Rama’s coronation

In India, popular perception in religious art largely spread through calendars, posters and periodicals. These colourful works of art were important in reinforcing images that we instantly recognise today. For instance, if we were to try to imagine Rama’s coronation in Ayodhya, it would be something like this — Rama and Sita seated on the royal throne with Hanuman bowing at their feet. Rama’s brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna are in attendance, as is the Vanar king Sugreeva. The royal priest, Vashishta, is busy conducting the ceremony.

It is a gloriously celebratory image, but uni dimensional, and oh-so-safe-and-recognisable, if you know what I mean. And frankly, quite boring as the expressions on all the faces are fixed and beatific.

But then, sometimes, one comes across depictions that shakes you out of the boredom and makes you look at the same thing all over again, but with delight this time.

I came across two artifacts/tableaus on Rama’s coronation at at Mumbai’s Bhau Daji Lad Museum. Though both were instantly recognisable for what they depicted, they had more than an element of surprise on offer. Here is the first one:

Rama's coronation. Ivory, Mid-18th Century

Rama’s coronation. Ivory, Mid-18th Century

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Museum Treasure: The bearded Rama

It is quite fascinating how popular culture, iconography and art shape, influence and reiterate perception, both consciously and unconsciously. Anything that is different from the familiar is either missed or dismissed as a gimmick. In rare cases, it opens up a whole new world and triggers off a new understanding. Something like this happened in February when I visited the Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum at the Jaisalmer Fort, where I was forced to acknowledge that I was not immune to internalising popular perception.

I was at the sculpture gallery at the Museum and idly registering apsaras or dancing girls, a Saraswati, a carved panel, and a bearded figure with a bow. Though the pose of the figure appeared relaxed, it’s expression said otherwise—fierce eyes, and a grim and stern countenance seemed to radiate tension. While, the arrow in the figure’s hands and the bow slung on it’s back suggested a brave warrior, the elaborate crown and extended ear lobes from heavy earrings suggested a that this was, perhaps, the figure of a king.

Bearded Rama, Sculpture, Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum, Travel, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan So who was it, I asked myself. When I saw the information board for this sculpture, I almost dropped my camera !

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Museum Treasure: The coffee set

I’ve had tea and coffee out of dainty porcelain cups, chunky stoneware mugs, paper cups and glasses, kulhads (terracotta cups), steel tumblers… In other words, in just about every other type of material possible. And I suppose, so would you.

And then I came across this coffee set at the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum and realised that I had neither seen anything like this or had coffee/tea out of something like this !

Coffee set Sri Lanka

The Coffee Set made from coconut shells

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Museum Treasure: Jewellery from Tamil Nadu

Though I don’t wear much jewellery, especially gold, it doesn’t stop me from admiring it. I love to look and trace the stories conveyed through the jewellery designs with my personal choice veering towards traditional designs in jewellery. In fact, more traditional a piece, the more I like it and feel a connection to it.

So imagine my delight when I came across this jewellery collection showcased at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

South Indian Jewellery at the V&A The information plaque revealed that all the pieces exhibited in this showcase were acquired through private collectors. Made in various parts of Tamil Nadu, they ranged in age from mid-eighteenth to the early 20th century.

Lets see what each ornament has to say about itself:

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Museum Treasure: Ulugh Beg’s cup

What if I were to tell that there exists a cup so mystical and magical that it has the power of detecting poison. Would you believe me? No? I thought not, and honestly I wouldn’t believe it if someone had told me about this.

But nevertheless, such a cup did exist about six centuries ago in Central Asia. It was a time of great upheaval and power struggle in the region when old dynasties were giving way to the new. Often caught in the crossfire of the conflict between the East and the West, it was also a time of great suspicion, prejudice and uncertainties in this region. Such an atmosphere was perfect for beliefs in charms and talismans to take root and grow. And the belief in protection was vested in Jade, a compact, opaque gemstone ranging in color from dark green to almost white. According to Central Asian belief, jade could detect poison and could also protect one from illness, earthquakes and lightning. Soldiers from this region often decorated their swords, belts and saddles with jade.

So, to get back our the story of the cup with the power to detect poison… it is made of jade and once belonged to the mathematician, astronomer and prince of the Timurid Empire, Ulugh Beg. Today, that jade cup is an exhibit in the Islāmic Room of the British Museum in London.

Ulugh Beg’s Jade Cup

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