The history of Islamic India goes back three centuries before the Mughal era, which lasted from 1526-1828. A variety of Muslim dynasties had ruled in northern India, bringing mainly Persian influences to the subcontinent. With the arrival of Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire, the stage was set for the most brilliant flowering of Islamic art in India.
The Mughals’ achievements were apparent in all aspects of life. Every aspect of court life was beautified without restraint. They took as much interest in fashion as jewellery, and their architectural achievements remain unrivalled. The India Gallery provides a glimpse into the public and private worlds of the Mughals.
Court life demanded an impressive array of vessels and other types of tableware. Instead of ceramics, the Islamic tradition of metalworking was taken to an unmatched level of opulence. Gilded silver, brass, enamels and jewel-inlaid gold were used on everyday objects. At a less extravagant level, there was the 16th-century Indian invention known as bidriware. This inlay of silver into a base-metal alloy embodies the Mughal tradition of flamboyance with a solid core of quality.
Usually made of wood, marble or sandstone, these are architectural elements that function as a window screen in the Mughal and Rajput palaces of north and central India. Traditionally used to separate the sexes and delineate public and private spaces at court, they also provide the practical function of ventilation.
There are many features of Mughal art that diverge from the Islamic mainstream. The most obvious of these is a delight in portraiture. The enduring fascination with these miniature paintings is partly due to their elegance, and also to the insights they provide into life as it was lived in those lavish times. Miniatures from this era are filled with images of rulers, courtiers and horses, along with useful scenes of fashion and interior design.
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