Art Historian Hugo Miguel Crespo delivered a fascinating lecture on 'Indian Jewellery and the Portuguese during the rise of the Mughal Empire' at the Yarmouk Cultural Centre on Monday evening as part of the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah's 24th cultural season.
Hugo Crespo specialises in Portuguese Renaissance material culture and Asian decorative arts made for export to the European market or under Portuguese commission during the Age of Discovery. During the current year, he published Choices, a large book/catalogue with the Lisbon-based art dealers AR-PAB, Álvaro Roquette and Pedro Aguiar Branco, who specialise in early Asian export art.
In his lecture, Crespo shared that the Portuguese voyages of exploration culminated in the establishment of an annual maritime route to India. This period witnessed the rise of the Mughals and was the time when Indian jewellery first arrived in Europe via the India Run. Conversely, the arrival of exotic European objects at the court of Akbar caused a sensation, and had a profound and lasting influence on Mughal courtly art. Drawing from the extensive and hugely important collection of Mughal jewellery and jewelled objects in the al-Sabah Collection, the lecture provided a better understanding of the artistic and technological interaction between East and West at this pivotal moment in time.
'In a time like the present where new collections of Islamic art are being hastily assembled, namely of Indian jewellery and jewelled objects of which many are suspected to be contemporary fakes and forgeries, collections such as the al-Sabah, must be treasured for the immense knowledge gained from the study of its objects', he stated.
He shared that various documents and accounts have survived, concerning the acquisition of Asian jewellery and precious stones by royal collectors and other great aristocratic Portuguese families during the age of discovery. In addition to some additional archival sources, practical guides for buying gemstones in Asia, were also circulated among Portuguese and other European traders and explorers embarking on the India run or the 'Carreira da Índia' in Portuguese, the name given to the fleet system responsible for the annual sailings that took place between Lisbon and Portuguese ruled Asia.
Soon after the exploratory voyage of Vasco da Gama in 1497-99, the Portuguese quickly set up a regular maritime connection with India. Lisbon would soon secure a leading position as a centre for the commerce and fashioning of gemstones particularly Indian diamonds. Crespo pointed out that advantageous business conditions and customs duties supported these free trades as opposed to the situation in other Asian kingdoms where the trading of stones was strictly controlled by the Sovereign as a royal monopoly. In fact, larger stones usually larger than nine cts would always be reserved for the rulers and this explains why in general only smaller diamonds reached Europe before the arrival of the Portuguese in India. He shared that was also valid for the trade of rubies which were even more prized than diamonds.
Goa, the port city of southwest India, set between the present states of Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the south, was taken in 1510 from the Adil Shahi rulers of Bijapur, one of the five sultanates of the Deccan and the entire southern peninsula of India. Established as the capital from 1530, Goa became an important centre for the trade and distribution of gemstones and pearls, attracting goldsmiths, gem cutters and jewellers from all parts of Asia and Europe.
The prominent position of Goa as one of the most important gem trade centres in early modern Asia remained unchallenged for a century as may be inferred from the account of the famous French gem trader Jean-Baptiste Tavernier who visited India on several occasions in the mid-17th Century. He noted that Goa was formerly the centre where the largest trade in Asia took place in diamonds, rubies, sapphires, topazes and other gemstones. All the miners and merchants would gather there they had obtained from the mines as they had full liberty to sell them there in their own country if they showed anything to their merchants would be compelled to give gemstones for whatever price the ruler set.
Following the European prototype, Crespo presented a Portuguese whistle in gold work in kundan and set with rubies, diamonds and emeralds as one of great importance for the study of Indian jewellery of the period given its provenance attributed to the Goan production because of its unique hybrid character. Crespo estimated it to be of late 16th Century manufacture with special revealing traits, the settings are embedded in the surface not unlike later Mughal creations yet the kundan technique here is complemented with crown like projections. The gold surface is decorated with an intricate deep cut and highly stylized floral pattern made with a sharp cutting gouache. Both the setting and the engraved decoration unlike the typical Mughal patterns and designs seems characteristic of a soft Indian coastal tradition.
Crespo shared that the same decorative and Indian aesthetic may be observed in the gem's studded caps most notably in the use of unpolished octahedral diamond crystals set in the clamps attached to the body of the whistle. This same use of diamond octahedral can be seen in a remarkable finger ring set with diamonds in a cabochon cut ruby from the al Sabah Collection ca. 1550-1600.
He pointed out that one other very fascinating aspect of the whistle is the use of European style cut diamonds that support Goa as its origin or at least point to a direct European influence or commission. In fact, complex faceting of diamonds was a technique unknown or at least unpractised by local Indian diamond cutters before the arrival of the Portuguese, he informed.
Curiously the diamonds used to form the rings decorating the body of the dragon and the head are hogbacks, long narrow diamonds with two main swapping facets in the crown on top meeting at an acute angle in a horizontal ridge and two similar facets in the pavilions. From elongated octahedral and hogback cut diamonds were well suited to form lines and were used in Europe throughout the century as tropes of letters as seen in a pendant from the late 16th Century depicting nails and a cross, found in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection today.
He shared that while there is a lot of documentation on the arrival of the first pieces of Indian gemstones in the Lisbon court, the fact that very few pieces of jewellery have survived from this early period underscores just how important the study of these archival documents are for our understanding of the different types of jewels, their artistic quality and the gem cutting styles used.
From the reign of Manuel I who died in 1591, there are some documents worthy of mention. One of the most interesting of these details, Crespo highlights, is the diplomatic and political relations with the powerful empire of Vijayanagar which extended over south India to the Deccan plateau. The letter from around 1506 from Vira Narasimha founder of the Tuluva Dynasty to Manuel I, addresses the Portuguese monarch as 'your brother Nanjarãao', demonstrates a high degree of familiarity with the European king from the symbolic and diplomatic viewpoint. In his missive, Narasimha refers to Manuel I's 'Brahmin called Friar Luís' the first Portuguese missionary and ambassador to the capital city of Vijayanagara, the Franciscan Friar Luís do Salvador, who arrived at the court of his father. The friar's arrival proved propitious for the two emperors, together forging an important alliance against the Sultanate of Bahmani, and which was sealed by Narasimha by dispatching with Friar Luís do Salvador, 'two bangles and six pieces of cloth' for the Portuguese king's son, the young Prince João, then aged five. Traveling with the Franciscan, a servant of Narasimha came to Portugal bearing gifts for Manuel I, including gem studded necklaces, rings and costly pieces of cloth.
Crespo affirmed that these were probably the first examples of jewellery made in the imperial city of Vijayanagar to have reached Europe 20 years before the first major Mughal entering in Hindustan by Babur in 1526 when the first Mughal emperor defeated the combined forces of the Muslim sultan of Delhi and the Hindu raja of Gwalior on the plains of Panipat near Delhi.
On the 19th of December, 1513, Henrique Nunes de Leao, received from Goncalo Mendes, factor of Calicut, a precious belt for the king. Bought in by the Portuguese Governor Afonso de Albuquerque the belt, arelhana, was a precious piece of jewellery worn by Hindu kings to fasten the dhoti, i.e. the cloth that hung from the waist to the ankles. These belts are known in Kerala as arapatta. This was a sumptuous belt decorated with circular elements like emeralds, rubies and diamonds weighing over a kilo. South Indian in style, this type of jewelled belts are absent from the depiction of Mughal princes and noblemen, and may be seen in contemporary paintings of the emperor Jahangir, the fourth Mughal emperor and son of Akbar the great.
With direct access to Asian gems and through an increasing investment in gemstones and sumptuous jewelled pieces, the Portuguese Queen Catarina of Austria, transformed her originally modest dowry into one of the most opulent jewellery collections in 16th Century Europe. Such access was strengthened by the residency of her goldsmith, Diogo Vaz, in Goa and Ceylon where he arrived in 1545, with strict orders to source the best gemstones and supervise commissions of precious objects for the queen.
In the queen's famous portrait painted in 1552 by Antonio Moro, the most extraordinary piece is a short necklace, la colar de las rosas, or 'the necklace of the roses' . This necklace inherited from Catarina's mother was certainly held in high esteem given the calibrated cut diamonds decorating the centre of each rose which formed the rosettes. It demonstrates the high level of mastery attained by European diamond cutters in the first decades of the 16th Century, a technical prowess that may be judged from a surviving double rosette set in gold panel pendant that belonged to Anna of Denmark.
One of the most interesting documents concerning the queen's expenditure on gems and which also reveals the bureaucracy in the trade of gemstones in 16th Century Lisbon is a chart drawn out in Lisbon and dated to 20 March, 1557. In it, Catarina of Austria authorises an expenditure of a large sum of money which her treasurer was to pay her candle maker for an uncut diamond purchased in India the previous year. From the document issued by the Casa de India, the special customs house for Asian goods, we know that the rough diamond weighed 11.45 cts and 5.72 cts following its cutting and polishing. This represents the loss of 50% of the gross material and is a clear indication of a highly advanced diamond cutting technique that sought to attain better brilliance, fire and scintillation, contrary to the practice of Indian diamond cutters who strove to preserve the maximum weight and integrity of the gem.
Furthermore, a large uncut Indian diamond, most probably an 81 carat diamond which the Portuguese king bought in 1549, is discussed in a letter addressed to Catarina of Austria from her court goldsmith and gem cutter who was responsible for cutting and polishing the rough stone. To achieve his objective he set about cutting the diamond using lead casts of the rough as models and forming the green.
Crespo shared that estimating the final weights was relatively straightforward since lead weighs three times as much as diamonds. Considering the percentage of rough sacrifice can be easily concluded the rough weight of 81 carat, approximately the same weight as the rough diamond acquired for the king. Gem cutting techniques in particular for coloured gemstone were most likely emerged in India and were developed with increasing knowledge of optics, solid geometry and crystallography within the medieval Islamic world.
Following its introduction to Venice from the east in the late 14th Century, diamond cutting attained unsurpassed levels of sophistication in Europe during the 16th Century. The knowledge of diamond cleaving method of splitting the diamond parallel to it direction of the crystal with a single blow coupled with the use of perfectly stable, horizontally placed polishing wheels, continuously rotating at high speeds, surpassed the traditional Indian cutting techniques and tools which were unable to provide the pressure stability and velocity needed to polish diamonds to perfection.
Considering the history, chronology and weight of the stone, Crespo identified a 40 carat gem to be a table cut diamond with a gem set in a ring given by the Portuguese court to Pope Julio III and sent to the Papal city on the Aug 8, 1551.
Crespo showed several examples of large stones that are a testament to the inventiveness of the cutters and the pattern complexities of the late 16th Century diamond cutting exhibiting wonderful light and shine.
He added that there are also documented references to Indian jewels and jewelled objects in the treasury of King Sebastian, the successor to the Portuguese throne. A gold dagger set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls, was given to the king in 1575 by Adil Shah I, Sultan of Bijapur. He showed a similar dagger from the al Sabah Collection which is a typical Hindu dagger known as a khapwa and favoured by the Mughal emperors as presentation weapons.
With its gem studded gold hilt set in kundan over a steel core, its Islamic type mosaic pattern with rubies and fine coloured Iranian turquoises may be seen in Mughal miniatures from the first half of the 17th Century and its geometric style already in use during the final of the 16th Century was deployed concurrently with other decorative schemes during the reign of Jahangir and his son Shah Jahan. It has been argued that this dagger is likely to be Gujarati as we find the presence of turquoises combined with rubies in the jewels seized by the Portuguese in 1537 following the death of Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat. 'I would add that the nature of the diamond pattern of interlocking circles which decorate the chamfered side of the hilt also of Gujarati origin', he added.
Crespo pointed out that 1575 is a year of great importance for the study of the artistic relations between the Mughal court and the Portuguese. The interest for the firangis, or European artistic accomplishments and European culture began when Emperor Akbar encountered the Portuguese in Diu following the Mughal conquest of Gujarat in 1572, when the emperor commissioned Portuguese style clothes and had worn them with matching dagger and sword.
While Anotnio Moniz Barreto was governor of the Portuguese state of India, an embassy was sent in 1575 to Goa from Fatehpur Sikri. Its mission carried out over a two-year stay and according to Abu al-Fazal, poet and official historian of Akbar's reign was prompted by the Emperor's awareness of many curiosities and rarities of the skilled craftsmen of that country.
Moreover, the Ambassador was appointed to take with him a large sum of money and choice articles of India to Goa and to bring for his majesty's delectation wonderful things from that country. Many clever craftsmen were sent with him who through ability and skill added industry in order to digest as the wonderful productions of that country were being brought away. These artistic interactions would therefore prove inspirational also for the jewelled objects and jewellery made at the royal karkhanas and used at the Mughal court and its satellite princely courts.
Techniques such as European style enamelling on gold and silver were introduced and simulated by the Portuguese supply of imported raw materials as noted by Sir Thomas Roe in 1617, the English Ambassador who stayed in Jahangir's court from 1516-18.
Diamond cutting and engraving techniques were performed either by Europeans working in the Mughal court or under their direct instruction. Finely cut agate cameo portrait depicting Shah Jahan is a testimony to European lapidaries working for the royal workshops as seen from this example of al-Sabah Collection which also underscores the influence of European style portrait medallions and mannerist style lockets with their delicately enamelled backs that bear influence from the contemporary European embroidery called black work style of stitching.
Crespo pointed out that little information exists on jewellery pieces and jewelled objects exchanged between the Mughal court and Portuguese before the end of the 16th Century. A highly complex character in the Portuguese rule of Asia is the admiral and fourth count of Francisco da Gama, his personal history is of great interest for the study of Indian jewellery and diamond processing and trade during the time of the Mughals.
The great grandson of Vasco da Gama, Francisco would serve twice as the Viceroy to the Portuguese state of India from 1597 to 1600 and again from 1622-28. During his tenure in Goa, and helped by the presence of Jesuits in the heart of the empire, he dealt closely with the Mughal court first with the emperor Akbar and then with his son Jahangir. He was also in direct contact with the Nizam Shahi rulers of the neighbouring Sultanate of Ahmednagar, with Ibrahim Adil shah of Bijapur and with the Sultans of Golconda.
Crespo revealed that the Viceroy was a major political platter in the Deccan during the troublesome first two decades of the 17th Century which saw the menacing Mughal expansion towards the south. Having a particular fondness for diamonds, the Viceroy would become the most active in the trade, buying both rough and cut stones from Goan diamond cutters, gem traders and goldsmiths. Gems, which he then sent to members of his family and to his agents in Lisbon to sell. Surviving letters between viceroy from 1609 and 1612 Rui Lourenço de Távora and da Gama, revealed the nature of their diamond business. In January, 1609, the newly appointed viceroy secretly proposes to him that the revenue from the admiral sales in Goa would be used in a joint venture for purchasing diamonds which would then be sent to Lisbon on a yearly basis.
Rumours of illicit activity and the scale of his earnings coupled with gossip at the court by his enemies set in motion his removal from office and excommunication and complete confiscation of his estate. Thorough inquiries ensued pursued by the authorities obtaining information about the viceroy's dealings in precious jewellery and gemstones. The most notable gem cutters and jewellers were investigated and their testimonies are of huge importance for the history of the gem trade in Goa during this period.
When the viceroy was arrested and his estate confiscated, his belongings were carefully listed and described in an inventory. Alongside many pieces of jewellery, mounted and un-mounted bezoar stones were several rough diamonds sorted by weight and packed in small round boxes stored inside the partially revealed silver lined cabinets. Apart from a diamond ring with a facet stone of 11 cts, the authorities found 8 diamonds weighing 59 cts, four weighing 15 cts, twenty weighing 109 cts and so on, one octahedron of 19 cts and two octahedrons weighing 12 cts.
'From this list, we know that the viceroy had in his possession stones which ranged in 18 to 3 cts weight, the admiral's main dealer in jewellery, gemstones and precious objects in Goa was a diamond cutter who not only gave his testimony on the viceroy's purchases of precious gems but submitted a detailed list of the titles he made and sold to the viceroy during his second term', Crespo stated.
'Not surprisingly, we find references to kundan in the viceroy's inventory', he continued, suggesting a Mughal origin for these pieces despite their European character. Of European form, he presented a remarkable ceremonial spoon which dates from the final years of Akbar's reign, modelled after a silver prototype, its decoration epitomizes the hybrid character of Mughal art while it's craftsmanship attests to the technical virtuosity reached in the imperial workshops not only in the precise cutting of the inlaid gems but also in the minutely engraved decoration of the gold surface which foreshadows the looser, floral style that blossomed during the reign of Jahangir.
He stated that the clearly Iranian nature of its floral decoration has been sufficiently emphasized and follows the more rigid floral patterns of Timurid and early Safavid art which features Chinese motifs such as the stylised lotus flower used in the widely circulated Yuan or early Ming dynasties, later copied in Iran and Turkey. However the use of a local century old tapered pattern of interlocking circles, a motif found in medieval cottons, made in Gujarat have similar patterns. The wide ranging Islamic connections are also apparent in the geometric trellis pattern used on the back of the handle which is reminiscent of perforated stone latticed screens which are characteristic of the court architecture of the Deccan sultanate and Mughal India. The most striking aspect, he shared, apart from the use of unpolished minute diamond octahedron on the filial, is the complex pattern of the faceted diamonds that crowns the gems.
'As I have stressed already, ample surviving evidence shows that complex diamond cuts were not within the reach of the instruments and materials used in India at the time such as the vertically placed polishing wheels that are even today used.' He pointed to the limitations of Indian diamond cutting technology as clearly evidenced in the polishing of the Shah diamonds.
More revealing is the polishing of the so called Shah Jahan diamond from the al Sabah Collection, an amulet shaped flat stone convincingly identified from a miniature portrait of the emperor aged 25. The 56.6 ct gem stands as testimony with its somewhat crude faceting and hasty polishing as may be seen from the stones highly grooved, polished lines and surface.
'In other surviving pieces of Mughal jewellery and jewelled objects, we find European cut diamonds. Their presence is not surprising as European lapidaries were at Akbar's court and in around 1622 Jahangir paid the Jesuits to cut some diamonds in his treasury', he remarked.
In a gem studded gold lock from the scabbard of the katar dagger in the al-Sabah Collection featuring a large rose stylised lotus and Ottoman style carnations, following a looser floral decorative scheme typical of Jahangir's reign, he pointed to some clearly European cut diamonds. Although, the kundan setting of the central diamond may have been reworked at some point, possibly due to its large size, the stone seems contemporary with their setting, he stated.
While some of the diamonds forming the lotus petals might be characterized as ill shaped rose cuts with their typical triangular facets, the central stone features lotus shaped facets and can be identified with the late 16th Century v cut. Perfectly polished rose cut diamonds most definitely of European manufacture were shown in another example of remarkable double bracelets clasps in the al Sabah Collection from the first decade of the 17th Century.
Francis da Gama's inventory shows that rose cut diamonds were already favoured in Goa in the late 1620s. It is thus tempting to posit a Goan origin to the rose cuts used in these early Mughal pieces of jewellery, of which many important examples belong to the al Sabah Collection, he concluded.
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