Tag: digitalization

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic & South Asian Photograph Collection – Part 5. Overview: Islamic Art in Private Collections

This post is the fifth 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 Alice West.

The importance of our open access Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Digital Images Collection has been noted in this series of blog posts. Yet, since the research, digitization, and cataloging of the collection is an on-going effort, we have not developed any systematic general description of this resource. But as the number of digitized images has grown, we have begun to define broad categories of images that could help researchers and art lovers around the world better understand what the Welch Collection can offer to them. This multi-part series from the project’s staff cataloger Alice West aims to highlight key strengths of the Welch Collection as a whole. In her first post, West describes one of the important subsets of the collection: works in private collections.

In this digital era, it may seem that anything one needs to find is readily available online. Yet researchers in any field, and in the field of Islamic art in particular, know that this perception is deceiving. Relative to the overall number of important Islamic manuscripts and artifacts, the number of their images available online or, for that matter, in print, is surprisingly low. There are many reasons for this, including shortage of technical and financial resources available for digitization efforts, as well as the unwillingness of institutions and private collectors to share their treasures with the public due to economic, political, ownership, and other concerns.

The Welch Collection fills in some of the ‘digital gaps’ by offering images from multiple sources that may not be otherwise available to the public. What are these gaps? One of the largest in terms of accessibility is private collections. Initially assembled for personal enjoyment, many prominent private collections from the late 19th–mid-20th century were later sold, bequeathed, or transferred to permanent hold to public museums and libraries. These include the collections of Calouste Gulbenkian, Victor Goloubew, Nasli Heeramaneck, Edmund de Unger, Leo S. Figiel, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and many others. The majority of these collections have been fully or partially digitized by the hosting institutions. At the same time, many of the collections stayed private and are closed to the public eye. Although our digitization effort is not completed, we can already say that the Welch Collection holds hundreds of images of paintings, calligraphy, and decorative art that are currently held in otherwise inaccessible private collections, including that of B. W. Robinson, Bedros Sevadjian, Stuart Cary Welch, and many anonymous owners.

Periodically, objects from these collections are offered at auctions such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s, and one may find their images online or in older auction catalogs. These are, however, expensive and not widely available. Even when an image is available on the auctioneer’s website, Welch’s collection, in most cases, offers a superior image or its details (close-ups).

 

Side-by-side photos of painting from a private collection, illustrating the superior quality of the images from the Welch collection. On left, a bearded man in a jeweled turban and earrings is shown in profile from the waist up, seated formally on a red divan and holding a white teacup. Image has a soft focus and yellow hues. Same photo on right (Welch collection) has dramatically higher resolution.

A Portrait of Raja Bhao Singh of Bundi. 18th century. Private collection. Detail. (Pic. 1a. Left: Photo: Sotheby’s. Pic. 1b. Right: Welch Collection)

 

An example of one such object is A Portrait of Raja Bhao Singh of Bundi, currently in a private collection. This portrait was sold in May 2006 by Sotheby’s, and its image is still available on the auctioneer’s website (1a. picture on the left). The Welch’s image, however, is obviously crisper and clearer in comparison, and its high resolution also allows for excellent close-ups (1b. picture on the right).

 

Side-by-side views of a miniature painting, illustrating detail visible only in the close up photos of the Welch collection. Full-view panel on left depicts a ruler sitting cross-legged on a platform surrounded by courtiers, with candles and wine set before him. Worshippers in the background gaze at the new moon from the flat rooftop of a tall building. The detail at right (Welch collection) reveals two young male courtiers in turbans and richly-embroidered clothing, praying with eyes closed and hands raised against a night sky.

Divan of Hafez, Celebration of ‘Id. c. 1527, private collection. Full view (Pic. 2a. Left ) and detail (Pic. 2b. Right). Photo: Welch Collection.

 

Another example is Celebration of ‘Id from a dispersed Divan of Hafez, which is a relatively well-known miniature held by the private Art and History Trust of the Soudavar family and seen in several publications, most notably on the cover of Abolala Soudavar’s large volume of Reassessing Early Safavid Art and History. The Welch collection, however, offers quite a different look at this miniature by providing an amazing level of detail in its forty five unique high-resolution images of the miniature’s different sections (2a – 2d).

 

Three gem-studded gold bottles with long elegant necks on an elaborately-decorated low hexagonal table.

Pic. 2c. Divan of Hafez, Celebration of ‘Id. c. 1527. Detail.  Photo: Welch Collection.

 

Woman in festive clothing with henna designs on her hands, peeking from behind a window curtain embroidered with gold dragons.

Pic. 2d. Divan of Hafez, Celebration of ‘Id. c. 1527, private collection. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

Of particular interest to researchers are the privately-held works that are not currently available to the public at all, as well as those that are only in limited professional publications as mere descriptions or, at best, as poor quality black-and-white photographs. The Welch Collection will be the only accessible repository where researchers can examine these objects in detail and in color. The beautiful Safavid album drawing below entitled Seated Girl, ca. 1600, is in a private collection in London (pic. 3). It is signed by Habib-allah of Mashhad, one of the artists in the court of Shah ‘Abbas the Great at Isfahan (Iran), and is an example of Habib-allah’s “faultless line,” and the elegant, flowing ease of the Safavid drawings [1].

 

Ink drawing of a young woman seated outdoors on the ground, beneath orange and purple clouds. Possibly holding a pear. A shawl over her head and shoulders is held in place by a red headband decorated with a black feather just above the forehead. The figure is drawn in contour lines with light touch, while heavier ink highlights the face, eyebrows, and long wavy sidelocks.

Pic. 3. Habib-allah of Mashhad,  Seated Girl. c. 1600, private collection. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

While our Welch Collection holds only one, full view, digital representation of Seated Girl, another picture from a private collection in Cambridge, MA, entitled Chinese Ladies in a French Chateau Garden, has twelve associated detailed images. Indeed, this painting abounds in different subjects scattered all over that warrant a closer look. Painted in the early 1800s in India, it is attributed, at least partially, to a Mewar artist Chokha and, according to Andrew Topsfield, represents “an anthology of borrowed European and Far Eastern themes, deriving from French fashion prints and mid-18th century Chinese export paintings …” [2]. A single low-resolution full view of this painting is featured in Topsfield’s paper (pic. 4a), but it is Welch’s collection that lets you explore it closer in twelve hi-resolution images of details (pic. 4b-d).

 

Two ladies in a French garden, standing near a black table with a blue-and-white porcelain vase. One figure holds a flower pot and another a round Chinese fan. A chateau is seen in the background.

Pic. 4a. Chokha (attr.), Chinese ladies in French chateau garden. Early 19th century, Mewar, Rajasthan (India). Private collection, Cambridge, MA. Photo: Artibus Asiae.

 

Tree with pink flowers against rolling blue hills. A small white dragon curls around a branch looking down on a temple.

Pic. 4b. Chokha (attr.), Chinese ladies in French chateau garden. Early 19th century, Mewar, Rajasthan (India). Private collection, Cambridge, MA. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

Europeans in 18th century fashion, walking among flower beds.

Pic. 4c. Chokha (attr.), Chinese ladies in French chateau garden. Early 19th century, Mewar, Rajasthan (India). Private collection, Cambridge, MA. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

A blue-and-white porcelain vase with curved handles and golden lid. The design on the vase depicts a European couple with dog.

Pic. 4d. Chokha (attr.), Chinese ladies in French chateau garden. Early 19th century. Mewar, Rajasthan (India). Private collection, Cambridge, MA. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

A popular image of Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne exists in several versions, one of which is in a private collection. This particular painting with its beautiful margins featuring botanicals and birds is available through Wikimedia, but despite of its large size its details fall far behind the ones from of the Welch Collection (pic. 5b-d).

 

Two fowl birds, each in its own frame of dark twigs against gold background, looking at each other.

Pic. 5a. Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne. 1634–1635, India, private collection. Detail. Photo: Wikimedia.

 

High quality image of same bird painting revealing white spotted chest feathers , yellow eyes, rough paper texture, and other details.

Pic. 5b. Shah Jahan on the Peacock Throne. 1634–1635, India, private collection. Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

Finally, we would like to share with you a preparatory study titled Four Views of a Baby Elephant at Play from Stuart Cary Welch’s own private collection (pic. 6a-c). As a symbol of intellectual and mental strength in Hinduism and the Indian culture, elephants were a popular subject in Indian art. This baby elephant adorned with golden bells is painted with realism and grace characteristic of the Kotah drawing masters.

 

Four views of a cheerful gray baby elephant against a yellow background; three kneeling and one standing on hind legs, arranged in a circle. The elephant wears gold bells dangling off a thin white collar. Two small figures, possibly trainers, lunge in opposite directions in top right corner.

Pic. 6a. Four Views of a Baby Elephant at Play. c. 1720–1730, Rajasthan, Kota (India). Full view. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

Contour line drawing of lunging male figure with hands spread apart, wearing cloth around his waist. There’s a hint of light red on his undergarments and turban.

Pic. 6b. Four Views of a Baby Elephant at Play. c. 1720–30, Rajasthan, Kota (India). Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

Profile of baby elephant with chin bristles, wrinkles in skin of extended trunk, and a pink tongue in a smiling mouth.

Pic. 6c. Four Views of a Baby Elephant at Play. c. 1720–30, Rajasthan, Kota (India). Detail. Photo: Welch Collection.

 

To browse rare images from private collections assembled by Stuart Cary Welch, go to images.harvard.edu and in Advanced Search set Image Repository to “private collection” and Keyword Anywhere to “Welch”.

In subsequent blog posts in this series, we will continue talking about the different categories of images that one can find in the collection. As we continue to catalog these exciting (and open access!) images, we hope that whenever you search our collection, you will find just what you were looking for!

 

[1] Robinson, B. W. Picture Book of Persian Paintings. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1965, p. 17.

[2] Topsfield, Andrew. “Court Painting at Udaipur: Art under the Patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar.” Artibus Asiae. Supplementum, Vol. 44, Court Painting at Udaipur: Art under the Patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar (2002), p. 230.

 

 

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection – Pt. 2

Written by Bronwen Gulkis

This post is the second 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.

Slides on the light table

Before the widespread availability of high-quality digital images, patrons at the Fine Arts Library viewed images on 35mm film slides, strips of developed film housed in a lightweight metal, plastic, or paper frame. These could be viewed through a slide projector, or at a light table–the Fine Arts Library still has some of these tables in our Lamont location. The library also has over 607,000 slides left from these days, and most scholars and professionals would have kept their own image collections as well. However, this was not always the case. Stuart Cary Welch, the former curator of Indian and Later Islamic art at Harvard, owned a collection of approximately 65,000 slides, which he left to the Fine Arts Library. In a memorial essay for Martin Dickson, “Salute to a Coauthor,” Welch later recalled that when he began amassing his slides, a colleague of his “spurned their use as not quite honorable, akin to cheating at cards.”[1] However unorthodox his methods may have been at the time, they were eventually adopted across the field of Islamic and Indian art.

Like any analogue technology, the clarity and resolution of 35mm slides was dependent on the type of film used and the developing technique. Most of the Stuart Cary Welch collection was photographed on Kodachrome, a proprietary film and emulsion technique owned by Kodak and popular throughout the 20th century. Kodachrome was prized for its archival qualities, since the color dye was added to the film surface in layers during the developing process, allowing for greater clarity, nuance, and pigment stability. However, like all archival materials, slide images degrade over time. The Fine Arts Library staff and our team of photographers has been working to preserve these images by re-photographing the physical slide, and then editing this digital image to restore and their original color balance.

Slides also fostered a unique collaborative way of working. Welch recalled that Martin Dickson, a professor of Persian Studies at Princeton, “underwent trial by color slide” in 1960 upon first visiting the Welch residence to discuss the project that became The Houghton Shahnama.[2]  Veterans of the Fine Arts Library will recall a time when professors prepared for their lectures by sorting slides side by side on a light table and loading them into a carousel. Welch collected images from across America, Europe, the Middle East, and India, and then manually reconstructed manuscripts and artistic communities by grouping dispersed images in the same carousels. As we inventory Welch’s slides, we often come across these carousels, filled with images from his publications and lectures.

Today, it is so easy to access high-quality digital images that we forget the meticulous processes that earlier scholars went through to assemble their image collections. Now that 35mm slide technology is no longer in use, these slides become artifacts of a formative period in the discipline of art history. Our next post will cover some of the treasures of this exciting research collection.

 

 

 

[1] Welch, Stuart Cary. “Salute To A Coauthor: Martin Bernard Dickson”. In Intellectual Studies On Islam: Essays Written In Honor Of Martin B. Dickson, 9. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1990, 9.

[2] Welch 1990, 14.