A priceless collection of 17th century Indian jewels is to go on display for the first time since they were looted from the National Museum of Kuwait by invading Iraqis in 1991. The dazzling array of rubies, emeralds, sapphires and gold, which had been loaned to the museum by the Kuwaiti royal family, was retrieved only after intense international pressure was brought to bear on Iraq.
The collection will go on display at the British Museum in London while the Kuwaitis finish rebuilding their own museum, which was burnt to the ground during the Gulf War. Many of the pieces have never been seen in the West. Sheila Canby, curator of the Islamic collections at the British Museum, said visitors would be find the collection awe-inspiring. "These are not jewels as we mere mortals know them," she said. "I went to the opening of the Kuwait museum in 1983 and I was gobsmacked at all these incredibly important things nobody here had seen before. I think this exhibition will have the same effect. People will walk in and go, 'Wow'."
The jewellery and armour of the Mughal emperors of India, who ruled from the 16th to the 18th century, has been built up since the Seventies by Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a member of Kuwait's royal family, as a private passion. The Indian Mughals were renowned as world leaders in the setting of precious and semi-precious stones. Most of the treasures were made for men.
Since the Gulf War, most of the items have been repatriated although some have never resurfaced, including three beautiful early Mughal carved emeralds. But the sheikh has further extended the collection. Among the highlights are a gold scabbard and dagger, the hilt studded with rubies, and a giant 15th century spinel, a type of ruby, known as the Talisman of the Throne. The stone was presented to the Indian emperor Jahangir in 1621 by the Shah of Iran, and has a long and colourful history.
It will be shown alongside the famous Timur Ruby, lent to the exhibition by the Queen, and believed by the Victorians to be the stone now known as the Talisman. It was put on show at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and this will be only the second time since then that it has gone on public display.
Dr Canby said the sheikh had chosen the British Museum because, with the Victoria and Albert Museum, it had one of the most important collections of Mughal art in the world. "The centre of the Islamic art market is in London," she added.
This article was published at the URL http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=72721. It was sent to me by my friend Vinitha.