We tootled up to Richmond yesterday to find the location of an office I’ll need to be at in a couple of weeks. We found that place, and Lo! Behold! right next door is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
My muse, his name is Serendipity.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a complex of sculpture gardens and different buildings, a campus, I guess.
It’s free (yes, FREE!) and open every single day of the year, which actually means what it says–Christmas, T-Giving and New Year’s Day, too.
Wow, huh? And only an hour’s drive away.
The museum collections are deliciously global, and include ancient Egyptian, Mayan and Central American art, East and South Asian galleries, as well as the regl’r Euro-stuff.
And it’s free. Did I mention that part? Yay, tax dollars!
The exhibit we got to see is a traveling exhibit, and was the only location on the entire East Coast for this rare collection. Opportunity=mine. (this special exhibit was $15 each, which is a fab thing for Duncan to buy for us for his birthday-heh!)
Maharaja: The Splendors of India’s Great Kings is a traveling exhibit with the bulk of items from The Victoria & Albert Museum in London, some items from personal collections, and one or two items owned by Yours Truly, as a resident of Virginia (they’re owned by the VMFA).
If you are local to this area, I recommend that you take a weekend afternoon to see this exhibit. It’s likely that you will not have the opportunity again to see these items, unless a trip to London is in your future.
My concept of “opulence” was kicked up beyond the stratosphere. This gal doesn’t understand the concept behind owning a Coach handbag, so my expectations aren’t hard to exceed. Nonetheless, the craftsmanship behind these items–err… we will probably never again see this level of quality of materials, art and craftsmanship again. Our knowledge of how to create even the raw materials needed for these items has been lost to Mass Production, much less how to put them together. (Anyone have a source for gold-wrapped silk threads for embroidery? Anyone?)
The collection and gathering of items was superb in itself, but the whole kit and caboodle was presented in social and historical context, too. What did it mean to be the Maharaja? What does that word mean and where did it come from? What responsibilities did this person have? How did the normal folk view thus role?
There was a gallery on home life, including musical instruments, board games, clothing, and painted images from the #1 downloaded text from Gutenberg.org.
Another gallery helped me organize my history of this time. Look up Mughal to get yourself started on this complicated history. This section included a better understanding of The East India Company and British Colonial Rule, but beautifully, the collection organizers did not allow the Anglo influence to dominate or skew the collection. The British presence in India is only one part of the whole of Indian history, and the collection shows that.
The exhibit concludes with a room asking “what happened to this ruling class of people after British Colonialism and after Indian Independence?”
The big picture I got from this exhibit is a better understanding of the wibbly-wobbly mix and mash up of religions. How can the rulers be Muslim but the people be Hindi (or vice-versa)? From my Western perspective, this has always confused me. (“but he has a Muslim name. Why is he wearing a Buddhist garment?”) We’re very polarized in America, and–the test of all good museum exhibits–this exhibit expanded my binary mental horizons.
Too bad for you, so sad for you, that you didn’t get to go with us, and they didn’t allow photography. So, here are some ideas and links for you.
The Asian Art Museum in San Fransisco is one of the most amazing museums in the US. I know this because I access their free and in-depth lecture videos on a weekly basis. They hosted the same exhibit, and they have several videos of the pieces, of experts discussing the exhibit, of the conservation of the pieces, here, free, available, for you. (yay tax dollars!)
Music: Look up Chitravina N Ravikiran, as an example of Carnatic classical Indian music.
Look up Victoria and Albert Museum Conservation of Tipoo’s Tiger in iTunes U for a video on the level of work involved in conserving these items. (a few minutes long)
This is a link to an entire lecture series from the Asian Art Museum in San Fransisco. The two lectures titled “Jewels from a Brush” are relevant to what we saw in this exhibit. (note especially the use of squirrel hair) http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/arts-south-asia-islamic-world/id547773189?mt=10&ls=1 (two one-hour lectures)
And Michael Wood’s multi-episode documentary of the history of India is a reference I view over and over again as I continue to learn more. This was available through Netflix Streaming last time I watched it.