Cleveland Museum of Art’s Mughal India exhibit tells the tale of a vibrant empire
By Carlo Wolff
It’s easy to get lost in “Art and Stories from Mughal India,” the new exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. You may find yourself pulled into a small, gold-saturated painting of a warrior slaying wild boars, one of 100 on view at this sumptuous centennial offering. You might find yourself lost in the detail of the giant carpet unrolled at the entrance to the exhibit.
The painting, “Bijan killing the wild boars of Irman,” dates to around 1610, at the start of the Mughal empire in India. It attests to the exquisite control of court artists the Mughals assembled, employing the best Persians, Afghans and Indians of the time to tell illustrated stories of their conquests and romances.
According to Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, the museum’s George P. Bickford curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art, the Mughals were central Asian Muslims who were assimilators, able to move across cultures to integrate India in an empire that lasted 332 years. They were liberalizers and assimilators, she suggested in an interview at the museum July 29.
The exhibit consists of 95 paintings from the collection of Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim, which the museum acquired in 2013, along with 39 three-dimensional objects. These span that remarkable carpet, a highly tooled musket, a wine cup shaped like a gourd, a luxurious robe Mughal embroiderers wove for sale to French aristocrats, an architectural panel of beautifully inlaid marble from a Mughal building (the Taj Mahal in Agra in central India, one of the seven wonders of the world, is Mughal), and a ring of gold and chased stone.
Back to that painting of the warrior and the boars. The intricate image is surrounded by script. It’s figurative and highly detailed, its angularity underlining the tension of the event. Beautifully composed, it has the immediacy of a photograph. It shows Bijan as he attempts to spear a boar even as his steed rears up. It pins down action in a frieze-like manner, transmitting turbulence you feel today.
Getting lost in this exotic display at CMA (there are, of course, audio aids, even an app) is something to do again and again. CV
WHAT: ‘Art and Stories from Mughal India’
WHEN: Through Oct. 23
WHERE: Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland
INFO: Free. Call 216-421-7450 and/or visit clevelandart.org
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 1, 2016.
Lead image: This wool and cotton carpet from the second half of the 1500s ushers the visitor into “Art and Stories from Mughal India,” a new exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz