October 16, 2012

Akbar. The Great Emperor of India, Museo Fondazione Roma

Akbar. The Great Emperor of India 
Museo Fondazione Roma, Palazzo Sciarra, Roma
Curated by Gian Carlo Calza 
23th october 2012 - 3th february 2013

Akbar receiving gifts, 1590
Paper, 21,50 x 15,50 cm
National Museum, New Delhi

An exhibition devoted to the Emperor of India, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (Umarkot, 1542-1605, Agra) one of the greatest sovereigns in history is presented by the Fondazione Roma. This exhibition has never been held before in Italy and, due to the number of works and historical completeness, is unique in the world since it covers the Emperor’s entire reign.  The last exhibition on this theme was held in New York by the Asia Society in 1984-86, showing around eighty works relating to 1571-1585. The Exhibition Akbar. The Great Emperor of India has been promoted by the Fondazione Roma and organised by Fondazione Roma-Arte-Musei with the Arthemesia Group. Curated by Gian Carlo Calza, the exhibition presents a selection of works produced during the reign of Emperor Akbar, in order to illustrate the great historical transformations in an age full of political and social events and to portray the personality of a man who made a particular contribution to artistic, cultural and religious dialogue.  

Akbar reigned from 1556 to 1605.  He was the most important Mughal Emperor and became Akbar – meaning ‘The Great’ – as a result of his military commitment and numerous conquests and also because of his administrative reforms and ability to make different religions live together and to spread culture, art and beauty throughout his realm. 

Sita offers fruit to Rama in the forest of Dandaka-ranya
Illustration from The Adventures of Rama (Ramayana)
Orchha, Bundelkhand, 1600-1605
Opaque Watercolor, ink and paper (gold)
28 x 18 cm
National Museum, New Delhi

The exhibition has a vast collection of works of art that aim to describe the classical India that circulates in the Western social imaginary - formed of Mughal Emperors, Rajas and Maharajahs - and was a destination for explorers, merchants and conquerors who arrived in that mysterious, rich and fascinating land from all over the world. An extraordinary nucleus of over 130 works has been selected to describe the life and act of Akbar, the third and principal Emperor of the Mughal imperial dynasty which lasted until the sub-continent was annexed to the British Crown in 1858.

Couple of ornaments for the ears
Probably Mughal domains. Probably early seventeenth century.
Running in gold kundan work with technical and setting with rubies, diamonds and emeralds with pearls suspended - 8.2 x 6.3 cm
Kuwait National Museum, Al-Sabah Collection

Of Muslim lineage, the Mughal were founded by Babur, the first to have conquered India and descendant of Genghis Khan (1162?-1277) and Timur (1369-1450), who lived from 1483 to 1530 and reigned from 1526 until his death. When Babur died his sons, Kamran Mirza and Humayun, Akbar’s father, divided the territories of his realm, though a civil war soon broke out and drove Humayun into exile in Persia. During his peregrinations, Akbar was born, in 1542, in the Rajput Fortress of Umerkot (now Pakistan) and had to be fostered by an uncle in Afghanistan.  Since the future Emperor grew up hunting and fighting amidst soldiers he was not taught to read or write: though he remained illiterate throughout life, he still developed a taste for art, music, literature and architecture. In 1556, at only thirteen years old, Akbar succeeded his father who had recently reconquered the empire and, due to the military brilliance of Bairam Khan, a valiant and faithful General of the Mughal army, he conquered most of the sub-continent and took control of the realm at nineteen years of age.  Thus a new age opened in India since the young warrior proved to be one of the most enlightened sovereigns in history. 

Arghan Dev brings the case of weapons to Amir Hamza
Illustration from The Adventures of Hamza (Hamzanama)
Mughal School, circa 1570
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper and fabric
79.1 x 63.3 cm
Brooklyn Museum, New York

Akbar, a Muslim, rejected any form of religious extremism and aimed to integrate the various races and autochthonous religions with Islam; he invited eminent exponents of each creed to court and appointed them as ministers; abolished the traditional Jizya tax which all non-Muslims were required to pay and, wishing to form an alliance with the Rajputs - an ancient caste of Indian warriors - he married the daughter of Raja Bharmal, Hira Kunwari.  He also abolished the idea of a State religion and introduced the principles of religious tolerance and equality which, in the entire history of humankind, are still exceptional. Driven by his religious tolerance, he attempted to create a syncretic religion that merged Islam and Hinduism; amongst many cities, Akbar also ordered the building of the capital Fatehpur Sikri, the City of Victory, where he lived for fourteen years (1571-1585); he developed and spread the arts which Humayun, his father, had imported from Persia and, together with several Persian painters, created a study with more than a hundred artists to execute sublime works, the style of which spread through all the provinces of his realm. The exhibition, Akbar. The Great Emperor of India, underlines his cultural and artistic, political and military achievements and profound religious spirit and exceptional broadmindedness. 

Turnover (attr.)
Gods asuras change the ocean of milk into butter
Illustration from the Book of war (Razmnama) 1598-99
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
29.5 x 16.5 cm
The Free Library of Philadelphia

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Fondazione Roma-Arte-Musei has organised the film review Bollywood Film Meeting Roma which aims to offer a glance at the new trends which are becoming popular in cinema productions in the Hindi language of Mumbai. The review, created by Gian Carlo Calza and curated by Sabrina Ciolfi, Indologist and connoisseur of Indian films at the Università degli Studi in Milan, will be held in the Teatro Quirinetta. 

This event is supported by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, and has been accomplished through the involvement of the Italian Embassy in New Delhi and Indian Embassy in Rome.