Category: special collections

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection – Pt. 4

This post is the fourth in a series about the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection written by the project’s staff and student catalogers in the Digital Images and Slides Collections of the Fine Arts Library.
Written by Nicolas Roth

 

The Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection is a great resource for research, and not just for art historians. A PhD candidate in the Department of South Asian Studies, I have had the privilege of working with the images in the collection as a student cataloger since the beginning of this year. Exploring Stuart Cary Welch’s often masterfully beautiful images of artwork and architecture from South Asia and the wider Islamic World is a joy in its own right. There are photographs of works not published elsewhere, and while these often present a frustrating challenge for us as catalogers, they are nonetheless a bit like buried treasure when one comes upon them. Yet even of comparatively well-known pieces the collection sometimes has better – clearer, brighter, higher-resolution – images than those available in printed publications or elsewhere online. Moreover, Welch frequently took detail shots of interesting features of a work; these are particularly valuable in the case of Indian and Iranian manuscript illuminations and album paintings, with their often small size but prodigious detail. However, the time spent with the collection has also turned out to be quite fruitful for my own research, and has resulted in ample visual material to weave into my dissertation.

 

Emperor Jahangir with Holy Men in a Garden

 

My project focuses on horticultural writing and garden culture in Mughal India – that is, the role of gardens and gardening in the intellectual and social life of early modern South Asia, and its reflection across a wide variety of literary genres. Images of gardens, horticultural practices, and plants in Mughal and Rajput paintings are an important complement to these texts, or even a set of texts in themselves. Take, for instance, the above painting of Mughal Emperor Jahangir in a garden by the court artist Abu’l Hasan, painted between 1615 and 1620. Not only does it reflect garden layout – a central watercourse, a pavilion set into the garden’s enclosing wall, rectangular, slightly sunken flowerbeds – but also an identifiable plant palette of Oriental plane trees and narcissi and irises in the flowerbeds. While all three of these plants frequently appear in Mughal painting as motifs inherited from Persian literature and Timurid pictorial tradition, their combined and realistic appearance here, in conjunction with the absence of any of the tropical plants frequently depicted in Mughal art, suggests that this is meant to be a garden in the temperate parts of the Mughal Empire in Kashmir or Afghanistan. The crowd of scholars and noblemen around Jahangir and the cauldron set up to prepare food point to the social use of gardens as a setting for various types of receptions, while the minutely detailed candles and torches indicate that this particular event is taking place at night.

 

Garden Scene from Album of Indian Paintings and Calligraphy

 

A similar level of detail can be discerned in this next scene above painted around the same time and now included in an album held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Here, however, the garden is only populated by three human figures: two gardeners, one with a spade and one with an animal skin filled with water, and a woman who has evidently been collecting flowers from the garden, as she is holding a bouquet in one hand and a leaf bowl of white blossoms in the other. The sunken beds in this garden are densely planted with trees, flowering shrubs, and some herbaceous flowers. In the background, a border of poppies is blooming brightly against a dense wall of trees. About a century later, an artist at the court of the Emperor Muhammad Shah produced a rendering of a garden that appears to synthesize all the features discussed in the elaborate garden set pieces of contemporary Indian literary works, such as these in a passage from a lengthy garden description in the Masnavī-i dilpazīr of Sa‘ādat Yār Khān ‘Rangīn’ (1757-1835), written in 1798:

Across from the central gate was a canal / Whose waves were no less than those of the Narmada River
All the way from the portico to there / Fountains were spouting forth from it

Cascades were falling from them / As if the rains of Sāvan and Bhādon were falling day and night
In front of them such showers came down / A cloud would be daunted coming before them
The trelliswork on both sides of the walkway / How can anyone describe it!
Having ordered sandalwood and ebony / And having had them split by craftsmen
Wooden pergolas were made / Like those in the squares of Kabul
Grapevines were made to grow all over them / So that no one be bothered by the sun
On both sides water was flowing / In this manner was this walk laid out

In the garden Muhammad Shah visits in the painting, watercourses adorned by impressive fountains run from the stately entrance gateway and an ornate, multi-storied pavilion set into the back wall of the garden to intersect at a square pool in its center. Borders of roses, poppies, marigolds, and other flowers line the paths along the watercourses, and wooden pergolas run along the walls of the garden on either side of the pavilion.

 

Muhammad Shah in a Garden

 

Muhammad Shah in a Garden, Detail 1

 

Muhammad Shah in a Garden, Detail 2

 

In Stuart Cary Welch’s detail shots, the grape vines trained over the trellises can be discerned particularly well, as can the exquisite detail of the flowering banana plants and campā trees in the row of trees at the very front of the painting. The latter is a type of magnolia, Magnolia champaca, with extremely fragrant yellow flowers which was much celebrated in Indian literary traditions, including in the Persian poetry produced in India by both Indian-born and Iranian émigré poets.

 

Fort Walls and Garden

 

Fort Walls and Garden_detail

 

The last work I chose to highlight, produced by Shaykh Taju at the Rajput court of Kota in Rajasthan in the mid-eighteenth century, is somewhat different from these Mughal works, and a bit of an oddity even for the Kota atelier. It consists of a schematic painting of a fort set at the edge of the lake. Only the walls and gates of the fort are sketched out, except for some lotuses blooming on the lake and a formal flower garden blazing with poppies and other herbaceous flowers within the fort walls. Hard to make out in full view images but very clear in one of Welch’s detail shots, a single banana plant rises amongst the flowers in one of the garden beds. This painting, though perhaps not quite as detailed and realistic as some of the previous examples, corresponds strikingly to a number of observations I make in my dissertation regarding a Sanskrit gardening manual. The Viśvavallabha of Cakrapāṇi Miśra, written around 1577 in the Kingdom of Mewar just to the west of Kota, stresses the planting of gardens inside forts, arguably in a reflection of local architectural realities. It is also unique among Sanskrit horticultural treatises in that it incorporates a number of temperate plants typical of Persianate gardens, many of them under their Persian names. Chief among these is the poppy, which predominates in the flower garden Shaykh Taju painted. The banana, meanwhile, is an Indian native and was a mainstay of Sanskrit gardening texts. As such, it became one of the first plants to be inserted in Persian gardening and farming manuals as they were recompiled and adapted for South Asia in the Mughal period. Shaykh Taju’s garden in its fort setting, then, exemplifies the convergence of textual and horticultural traditions my research traces in a single, poignant image, and serves as a perfect illustration to conclude one of my dissertation chapters.

Similar research possibilities await in the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection regarding myriad other topics. We strive to tag the image records thoroughly and strategically to make targeted searches as productive as possible. However, it is also worthwhile to just explore the collection. You never know what you might find.

Announcement: Explore our Stuart Cary Welch Islamic & South Asian Photograph Collection!

You’re invited to share in a project with us here at the Harvard Fine Arts Library: a digital humanities game using images of Islamic and South Asian art, with the chance to win an art publication of your choice, worth up to $150 USD!

For more information about The Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection, see the collection page on our website. The collection consists mostly of high-definition photographs of paintings and drawings, both famous and rare, but it also contains images of historical photographs, metalwork, and architecture.

The game is easy! Just register, then click through the images and add tags, separated by commas. Keywords are fine, but the most important details would be any deeper knowledge you can impart (language, style, rough time period/era, story/text identification, motifs, techniques, artist, repository, etc.)

At the end of each round, the participants will be entered into a drawing to win an art book of their choice valued up to $150 USD. NOTE: you do need to register for an account and play the game at least once in order to be entered into the prize drawing!! 

 

Register HERE (you’ll need to confirm your email)

…then access the game HERE!

 

The theme for this month is: 

The Natural World: Indian & Islamic Paintings and Drawings

 

 

A little taste of themes to come (new rounds will be announced on our Instagram page, @harvardfineartslibrary, so give us a follow!):

The Supernatural World (paintings and drawings)

The Real World (historical and architectural photographs)

Challenge round (Difficult! Metalwork, frontispieces, etc.)

 

Thanks so much, and we hope you enjoy exploring this exciting collection! If you don’t mind, we’d love your feedback after playing, which you can give via the short form here: https://goo.gl/forms/RLxkvvtmEc0d8A3c2. Have fun!

Salted Paper Prints from Special Collections

Here you see the wide range in tonality and richness in colors. Indeed, monochrome can be very colorful. We are so glad that many of these salt prints have remained in good condition, such that the facial expressions and details of clothing and accessories for each sitter are still astonishingly clear.

In collaboration with the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and Houghton Library, Harvard Library’s Weissman Preservation Center (WPC) is hosting a symposium on the Salted Paper Prints from the Harvard Fine Arts Library’s historic photographs collection on September 14th and 15th. During the two-day symposium, a hands-on workshop hosted by the Northeast Document Conservation Center will allow participants to explore the chemistry and artistic nuance of creating salted paper prints. A brief lecture will acquaint the participants with the basic chemistry and variations of the process and discuss preservation concerns.

The salted paper print was an early negative/positive printing process developed by William Henry Fox Talbot in England in the 1830s. Many beautiful examples of this process were created in the 19th century and can be found in a variety of photograph collections.

Read more about the symposium and how to register.

Read the previous post about the Salted Paper Prints Symposium.

Salted Paper Prints Symposium

Salted paper print at the Fine Arts Library

Salted Paper Prints: Process and Purpose
A Collaborative Workshop in Photograph Conservation

In collaboration with the Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic WorksHarvard Art Museums, and Houghton Library, Harvard Weissman Preservation Center (WPC) is hosting a symposium on salted paper prints on September 14th and 15th. Registered participants will be able to attend a special viewing of salted paper prints from the Harvard Fine Arts Library‘s historic photographs collection on September 13th.

A salted paper print, or simply salt print, is a photographic printing process whereby paper is coated with salt solution and then a silver nitrate solution to capture images. It was a popular photographic printing technique between 1839 and approximately 1860.[1]

WPC has undertaken a university-wide project, the Salt Print Initiative, to preserve and enhance access to salt prints across campus, including inventorying the salt prints held by individual repositories, including the Fine Arts Library.

This symposium will present a multi-disciplinary, two-day program that focuses on the preservation, characterization, use, and interpretation of the salt print process, now over 175 years old. Read more about the symposium and how to register.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_print

Staff from Harvard Weissman Preservation Center selected some salted paper prints from our collection for the initial presentation at the Fine Arts Library in December, 2016.

Stay tuned for more images from the historic photographs collection.