The exhibition “The Other Great Mughal” in the Dresden Green Vault

Dhe grand mogul sits in his velvet-covered throne chair on a marble platform, flanked by four chamberlains with staffs and servants with palm fronds. He holds the mouthpiece of a gilded hookah that stands behind him and stares straight ahead. In his line of sight, separated from the ruler of northern India by a flower arrangement, are four musicians; two carry drums on strings around their bodies, a third holds a sarangi, a string instrument carved from a block of wood and strung with three melody and more than thirty resonance strings.

The fourth is a dancer. He appears to be motionless, only his left arm is raised in greeting. He will soon begin with the Kathak, a dance that has been performed at the Mogulhof since the sixteenth century and combines Hindu-religious with secular themes. The scene is of great solemnity, everyone present wears ankle-length, laterally slit colored robes over wide paijama trousers and flat turbans or, like the servants, round brass helmets. Only the Padischah wears a half-high red turban. And he is – you can see it by his gray beard – the oldest in the group.

A legacy that remains puzzling to this day

The scene is an ivory miniature, sixteen by twelve centimeters in size, and it is one of the highlights of the exhibition “The Other Great Mughal”, with which the Dresden Museum of Decorative Arts presents its Indian treasures in the New Green Vault of the Residenzschloss. Some of the approximately one hundred exhibits come from the foundation of Mary Adelaide Yates, the daughter of an English lieutenant general, who served in the army of the semi-state East India Company in the first half of the nineteenth century.

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The circumstances surrounding the gift that the Kingdom of Saxony received in 1900 from the estate of the London teacher Yates are still puzzling. The patron obviously had an aversion to her home country; in any case, she made a testamentary obligation to the Saxon state to ensure that none of the objects ever returned to England.

Or did she take revenge on her father in this way? As the Dresden cabinet exhibition shows, Richard Hassel’s Yates (1777 to 1847) was not only a lover, but a connoisseur of Indian handicrafts, because he only collected the best of everything: ivory carvings, painted miniatures, alabaster works and watercolors. Most conjured up a better past, because at the beginning of the nineteenth century the Mughal Empire of Delhi was only a shadow of itself. Wars and civil unrest had worn down its exemplary administrative and military apparatus and when the troops of the East India Company occupied Delhi in 1803 , the penultimate Mughal ruler Muhammad Akbar II became the puppet emperor under British leadership.


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