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Dazzling Indian objects from the Royal Collection to go on display in a new touring exhibition

Release date: Thursday, 26 May 2016

Enamelled gold ink-stand presented to the Prince of Wales during his tour of India in 1875-76

Enamelled gold ink-stand presented to the Prince of Wales during his tour of India in 1875-76 ©

Some of the finest Indian treasures from the Royal Collection will go on display in a new Royal Collection Trust exhibition that tells the story of the grand tour of the Subcontinent made by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) at the end of the 19th century. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince's Tour of India 1875–76 has been developed in collaboration with Cartwright Hall, Bradford, and New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester.

In October 1875, the Prince of Wales set off on a four-month tour, visiting over 21 localities, which today encompass India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal.  Travelling nearly 7,600 miles by land and 2,300 miles by sea, he met over 90 rulers of the different regions he visited. 

The exhibition tells the story of the tour through watercolours, photographs and 74 exquisite works of art that were presented to the Prince as part of the traditional exchange of gifts. Many of these items were precious heirlooms from the rulers' toshakhanas, or personal treasuries, while others were specially commissioned from local artisans.

The Prince recognised the cultural value and artistic merit of the gifts he had received. On his return to Britain, he made arrangements for the items to be placed on public display, first at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), and later in Paris and at museums across the UK, including in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, York and Nottingham.

Highlights include:

• An exquisite gold enamelled and diamond-set ink stand in the form of a State Barge, presented during the Prince's visit to the holy Hindu city of Benares (modern day Varanasi). 

• A Service of State, or durbar set, made of gold and engraved with floral decoration, presented to the Prince during his visit to the city of Mysore (modern day Mysuru) in the southern state of Karnataka. 

• A spectacular enamelled gold plate and attardan (perfume holder) from the city of Jaipur.  The plate, which is decorated with bands of floral and foliate patterns, and images of animals and palaces, was at its time of creation the largest ever produced in Jaipur enamel and reportedly took four years to make.

• A beautifully ornamented dagger with an enamelled and bejewelled handle and a scabbard with a blade filled with loose seed pearls. 

• A dazzling sirpech (turban ornament) made of three large emeralds and bordered by bands of bright red enamel and diamonds presented by the Maharaja of Udaipur.

Jonathan Marsden, Director, Royal Collection Trust, said, ‘We are delighted to work with Cartwright Hall and New Walk Museum & Art Gallery to exhibit these very important items from the Royal Collection and celebrate the common heritage of the UK and the Subcontinent. We hope that people from Bradford, Leicester and around the UK will visit the exhibition to enjoy these magnificent objects, as so many did when they were first shown in this country in the 19th century.’

Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince's Tour of India 1875–76 will be shown at Cartwright Hall, Bradford, 11 March – 18 June 2017, at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester, 8 July – 29 October 2017, and at The Queen's Galleries in Edinburgh and London in 2018.