Home » Lifestyle » Culture » Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is unprecedented

Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is unprecedented

ARTS_Shiva on His Vimana (Aircraft) with Himalaya (detail), 1827

HOUSTON – March 4, 2018 – A major collaboration brings a groundbreaking exhibition of royal treasures from India to Houston in March. Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in partnership with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust of Jodhpur, Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India showcase s nearly four centuries of artistic creation from the kingdom of Marwar-Jodhpur, one of the largest princely states in India, in the northwestern state of Rajasthan. The exhibition will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from March 4 to August 19, 2018, before touring to the Seattle Art Museum and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
Through lavishly made ceremonial objects, finely crafted arms and armor, sumptuous jewels, intricately carved furnishings and more, Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India outlines the dynamic history of the Marwar-Jodhpur region and the Rathore dynasty that ruled it for over seven centuries.
Established in the 15th century, the city of Jodhpur was once the powerful capital of Marwar, a vast desert kingdom ruled by the Rathores, who were descendants of a hereditary social caste of Hindu warriors and kings (known as “kshatriyas”). Over the course of several centuries, the prosperity of Jodhpur attracted the attention of two successive empires who ruled India: the Mughals and the British. Both encounters reshaped Jodhpur’s cultural landscape, introducing objects, artists, languages, architectural styles and systems of administration that influenced the royal identity of the Rathore dynasty. Through some 250 objects from Indian courtly life, most never before seen outside of Jodphur, the exhibition illuminates how the Rathores acquired and commissioned objects amidst these cross-cultural exchanges to leverage patronage, diplomacy, matrimonial alliances, trade, and conquest.
Drawn primarily from the collections of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and the private collections of the royal family of Jodhpur, the exhibition marks the first time that most of these treasures—including paintings, decorative arts and furniture, tents, canopies, carpets, textiles, and weapons—will be seen outside of their palace setting at Mehrangarh Fort and the first time they will travel abroad.
The foundations of the Fort, carved out of a rocky hillside 400 feet above Jodhpur, were laid by the Rathores in 1459 as a military stronghold. The Fort, famously described by Rudyard Kipling as “a palace that might have been built by Titans and colored by the morning sun,” has been the seat of the Rathore dynasty since then, serving as a royal residence, a center of cultural patronage, and a place of worship for the royal clan. Today, it houses the collection of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, which was established in 1972 by the current dynastic head of the Rathore clan, His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II, and remains one of the most important and best-preserved collections of fine and applied arts from the Mughal period of Indian history. A handful of carefully chosen objects from other notable collections, including The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, complete the presentation, while large-scale photomurals will evoke the stunning setting of the Mehrangarh Museum, where H. H. Maharaja Gaj Singh II continues to preserve the living heritage of Jodhpur.
“Peacock in the Desert is the result of a landmark partnership, marking the first time the Mehrangarh Museum Trust has shared so many of the treasured objects of their collection,” commented Gary Tinterow, MFAH director. “We are deeply honored and grateful to be the first U.S. organization to present this show, and for the opportunity to provide visitors this unprecedented experience of India’s rich cultural history.”

ARTS_Gujarat, Palanquin (Mahadol), c.1700-1730_2
“The fort of Jodhpur-Mehrangarh has been preserved as a record of the lives and legacy of the Rathores,” added His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II. “I look forward to sharing the artistic and cultural heritage of my country, India, and the city of Jodhpur and its people, with new audiences across North America.”
– Exhibition Overview –
Peacock in the Desert is curated by a team of scholars and professionals from India: Dr. Mahrukh Tarapor, senior advisor for international initiatives at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Dr. Karni Singh Jasol, director of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur; the late Martand Singh, chief consultant from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust; and Dr. Angma Dey Jhala, associate professor at Bentley University, who serves as project advisor and volume editor for the accompanying catalogue. Three central, underlying themes woven throughout Peacock in the Desert build upon recent and emerging scholarship to deepen visitors’ understanding of the multifaceted character of a traditional Indian kingdom:
– Interconnections: The relationships between palace and town, urban and rural, central empire and subsidiary kingdom, as well as those that resulted from migratory trade routes, marital alliances, and military partnerships/confrontations, all led to a dynamic crosspollination of new ideas and belief systems, which found brilliant expression in fine and decorative arts, architecture, design, performing arts, and more.
– The role of women and artisans: Contrary to the popular assumption that royal women were quietly hidden away, the exhibition explores the crucial role they played as agents of cultural change and patrons of the arts, showcasing how the gender roles, social etiquette, and aesthetic practices employed by women influenced the identity of Indian courts.
– Royal patronage and the continuity of tradition: An exploration of the royal courts and the ways they were able to preserve India’s cultural traditions, while at the same time absorbing and incorporating external influences.
The exhibition opens with a dramatic recreation of a royal wedding procession with video projections of actual footage from royal weddings performed in the 20th century. Featuring elephant howdahs (seats), horse and elephant mannequins adorned with traditional wedding regalia, and royal insignia, this immersive environment introduces visitors to the role that marital alliances played in the lives of the citizens of Marwar-Jodhpur and in the development of the region’s aesthetic traditions.
The Mehrangarh Museum Trust is India’s leading cultural institution and center of excellence, established in 1972 by the 36th Custodian of Marwar-Jodhpur, H. H. Maharaja Gaj Singh II, to make the Fort come alive for visitors. Today, Mehrangarh Museum has a unique importance as a repository of the artistic and cultural history of the large area of central Rajasthan, Marwar-Jodhpur, ruled by the Rathore dynasty.
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur, India. The exhibition will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from March 4 through August 19, 2018, before traveling to the Seattle Art Museum (October 18, 2018, through January 2019) and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada (March 9 through September 2, 2019).
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is located at 1001 Bissonnet, Houston, Texas 77005 | www.mfah.org | 713.639.7300.

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