A refreshing reminiscent of the Mughal period this exhibition only furthered the interest that Mughal art had always attracted. Introducing the period from 16th to late 17th century Mughals were active patrons of art and culture that quickly flourished integrating different styles and sensibilities of diverse regions across the subcontinent to assimilate into one distinguished and prominent visual imagery that continues to remind us of the golden period in art.
Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire explored not just the art and the culture but through the vast number of works on display it also gave one an idea of a way of life and living. For instance, one of the miniature paintings on display was a portrait of a lady sitting with a hookah in a seemingly simplistic and tranquil landscape titled Muttubby, mistress of Ashraf ‘Ali Khan (fig.1) attributed to Dip Chand, Patna, 1764. This illustration of a person sitting accompanied by a hookah is a conventional profile in many courtly miniature portraits.
The significance of the image corresponds to many cues that tell us more than what meets the eye of the person in the portrait; his/her social position and the physical disposition which presumably could be related to either idle moments of contemplation or a forlorn existence in the anticipation of a loved one. Further on, the presence of hookah is representational of more than a simple smoking device; it is a characteristic feature of quintessential portraiture where the status and social standing as well as moments of solitary existence across different sections of society is portrayed.
Taking another example, not from this exhibition but relevant for this observation is Lady in a Landscape with huqqa held by a child, a deer between them (fig.2), an 18th century Rajasthani miniature from the private collection of Dr. Alice Bonner which now forms a part of Mughal Art Network Collection (see attached illustration). This miniature while having an almost similar composition of a placid background divided by clouds, plains and green landscape to the one from the exhibition is distanced only by region and date of its production. Therefore, the idea of representing reality by means of highlighting the most detailed aspects is consistent and prevalent in most of mughal art.
Lastly, it would not be an overstatement to make that this seminal exhibition accomplished to recreate in our imagination the artistic legacy of the Mughals by exhibiting total of 200 works; a large part from British library collection and the remaining from Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the British Museum (London), the Royal Asiatic Society (London), the Bodleian Library (Oxford), the India Office Library Collection (London) and the Royal Collection (Windsor). The exhibition ended in April 2013, nevertheless, you can find more information about it in a published catalogue.