Power and Desire, Indian Miniatures

from the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection of the San Diego Museum of Art

21 mars 2003 - 15 juin 2003


The Baur Collections are pleased to present an exhibition of 67 remarkable Indian miniatures, chosen from among the 1450 works left by the American collector Edwin Binney 3rd to the San Diego Museum of Art, in California.

The works selected to be shown in Geneva date from the period of Moghol rule (16th – early 19th centuries). The exhibition will be divided into three parts.

The first part, “Power and the Court”, presents the monarchs, surrounded by divine haloes and wearing magnificent jewels, governing a society ruled by strict court etiquette. These illustrations served to enhance the image of the ruler. At the Moghol court, the patronage of illuminated manuscripts and paintings was considered a royal duty and the representation of the monarch as a central theme became a rule. A tradition evolved of representing the sovereign and the events of his life at court. Royal portraits, sumptuous durbâr (audiences), huge processions, historical tales, parties and hunts illustrate this idealised hierarchisised society.

The second part, “Love and burning Desire” illustrates amorous relations. Conventional scenes evoke those intimate moments when the ruler enjoys the company of his queen or his favourites. Scenes from the princely zanâna, the women’s quarters, and scenes lifted from well-known literary works, suggesting the pleasures of the united lovers. In the Indian aesthetic tradition, a series of nine rasa, or “sentiments”, evolved over the centuries, feelings which the dominant character of a work of art awakens in the spectator. Of these, the Shringâra rasa, amorous sentiment and eroticism, was considered the most important and the most apt to lead man to God.

The third part of the exhibition, the “World of the Gods”, evokes the interpenetration of the Heavens and Earth. The same theme of desire appears once again here, with the complex and turbulent love affair between the god Krishna and Râdhâ the ox herder, Krishna representing the archetypal Lover. The story of their love is an allegory of the soul in its search for God. In Indian thought, men identify with the gods, and the gods, in their infinite compassion, deign descend among men. Rama, the emblematic hero of the great Brahmanic epics, is venerated as a divine hero and an ideal monarch. Shiva incarnates duality. He is both an ascetic living in a cave and the symbol of creative energy. Vishnu the omniscient and immeasurable, appears in his cosmic form. Islam is represented by the miraj, the ascent of the Prophet Mohammed.

As a complement to the miniatures and to highlight the magnificence of court life, this exhibition will also present a small selection of finely decorated Indian metalwork, weapons, jewellery, and silks, on loan from the Ethnographical Museum in Geneva.