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Treasure india 1Tiger Finial from the Throne of Tippoo Sultan (1750-1799), Mysore India, Circa 1790 Gold inlaid with Diamonds, Rubies and Emeralds

This exhibition of some sixty jeweled objects from the private collection formed by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani will provide a glimpse into the evolving styles of the jeweled arts in India from the Mughal period until the present day, with emphasis on later exchanges with the West.-                      Met website

The “West” remark is an understatement, as the collection spans centuries, yet the flagship items were obtained in a moment of plunder at the apex of imperialist adventure. First the owner, Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, former emir of Qatar, the largest source of natural gas on the planet, perhaps the wealthiest collector in the world as well. This show of sixty plus objects was unfortunate in its choice of a lecturer being Christies expert, despite the potential conflict of interest or out of place setting, he did know his stuff. The collection includes objects from circa 1500 right up to the 20th century, from a variety of sources. Cynical observers might remark that this is a road show of an auction to come. At that point this writer states, hold on a second. There are a few things on display here which are irreplaceable.

Treasure india 2Tippoo Sultan's Magic Box, Mysore, India, Circa 1789-1798, Gold, Each of the twenty equilateral faces bears a number in Arabic Used as common factors in Euclidean Geometry Pioneered by the Ancient Greeks

In a single showcase were a group of objects dating to the demise of Tippoo Sultan (1750-1799). Here readers of fiction may have an edge on students of history in recognizing a famous person. Tippoo was cast as a villain in one of the Richard Sharpe novels, and at the end of Sharpe's Tiger, Sharpe kills him to take Tippoo’s jewels as spoils of war in the Battle of Sengingapatam, in May 1799. The battle saw the British forces overcome a heavily defended bastion of the last Mysore ruler of south western India. Both the Islamic World and the native Indians likely have different views on this outcome. Anyhow, one of the Generals, David Baird, had suffered from a previous incarceration at the hands of Tippoo and likely did not behave too well in the aftermath of the assault. Once past the fictitious story of Sharpe and company helping themselves to the spoils of war, the real accounting of the Tippoo Sultan's inventory of valuables was so precise that it begs the question of the identity of a young Colonel serving alongside Generals Baird and Harris. An officer whose brother was the Earl of Mornington, Governor General of India, that young Colonel was Arthur Wellesley, later known as the Duke of Wellington. Wellington (a combination of Wellesley and Mornington) who would go on to great fame in India, Spain and at Waterloo, but one of his administrative achievements was imposing discipline where there had only been plunder.

Nosey as he was called by his troops, had a tendency to hang offending Redcoats who looted food from the natives. The only reason the works on display survived in an orderly fashion was Arthur Wellesley took over from Baird, and his subsequent administration of the spoils of Seringapatam. These objects aren't just beautiful; they are extraordinarily important artifacts from a turning point battle of British India which saw the ascent of the finest General of British history. Christies presence at the opening reception clearly means they have their eyes on these works, this is one writer who hopes the “Tippoo Sultan” works stay together in the current hands of Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani.

Treasures from India

Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection

October 28, 2014–January 25, 2015

Respectfully Submitted,

Alexander Boyle

Treasure india 3NEWJewel Encrusted Dagger, Mysore, India, Circa 1790

Treasure india 4NEWDagger and Tippoo's Tiger Throne Finial, Mysore, India, 1790

Treasure india 5NEWRitual Spoon, South India, Circa 1800, Gold

Treasure india 6NEWJewel encrusted Decanter, Mysore, India, Circa 1790

Treasure india 7Bird Shaped Finial, South India, Circa 1775-1825 Gold Inlaid with Diamonds, Rubies, Emeralds, and Pearls

Treasure india 8Bird Shaped Pendant, South India, Circa 1775-1825 Gold inlaid with Diamonds, Rubies, Emerald and Pearls

Treasure india 9Locket Pendant, Mughul India, 17th Century ?Gold Inlaid with Rubies and Emeralds

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About the Author

Robert Alexander Boyle

Robert Alexander Boyle

 Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, CT where he majored in History. Prior to graduation he co-authored the seminal book Acid Rain in 1983. Alex has worked for the Metropo...