I curated a display of Sikh artworks from the collections of the Asian Art Museum San Francisco during my internship last year.
I hope you will visit it as it is now on display at the Sikh gallery in the museum. The underlying theme of the rotation is POWER OF THE SPECTACLE, which was there for all to experience during the recent coronation of King Charles in London. Monarchies down the ages have used the display of their wealth & position in society to create lasting impressions on the viewers.
The Sikh courts of 19th century Punjab left visitors enthralled with their pomp and pageantry. Maharaja’s, courtiers and their mounts decked themselves with magnificent clothes and spectacular jewelry. One notable exception was Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Lahore Darbar, the largest and most powerful of the Sikh kingdoms. While he well understood the power that a display of wealth could hold, he himself dressed in simple muslin (fine cotton) clothes but insisted that his courtiers, army and even their mounts, be dressed in their finest, especially when receiving foreign dignitaries in court.
The Sikh kingdoms, south of the Satluj river of –Patiala, Nabha, Jind, and Faridkot, signed treaties with the British primarily to counter the growing power of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, their neighbor to the north. This arrangement enabled them to keep their courts and armies. The maharajas, with their ample resources and time, patronized artists and craftsmen who created opulent jewelry and fine portraits for them.An important record of the impressions left on visitors to the Sikh kingdoms, is available through the writings and drawings of visiting Europeans like Miss Emily Eden, W.G. Osborne and others.