A precious piece of Indian history has arrived in Paris. After passing through the United Kingdom, North America, and east Asia, the extravagant Jewels of the Al Thani Collection exhibit is now headlining at the Grand Palais, where it will be on display until June 5.
The collection showcases some of the most beautiful ornaments from the Mughal empire and the period of British rule. It reveals both the beauty of early modern Indian jewellery, and their fascinating influence on Western jewelers.
The collection also reveals how India’s cultural heritage, scattered by the pillaging of invaders and colonial armies, is now being reassembled for a global audience. The owner of the collection is Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, CEO of the Qatar Investment and Projects Development Holding Company and cousin of the Qatari emir. Other members of his dynasty have made names for themselves collecting modern Arab painting and contemporary Western art, transforming Qatar into a hub of the global art business.
Al Thani’s travelling exhibit of Indian art is a blockbuster show, complete with merchandise tie-ins: replica earrings, rings, and mirrors are available in the gift shop. And the exhibit provides yet another opportunity for Qatar to flex its soft power in France. In recent years, state-backed Qatari companies have purchased French icons like the Paris Saint-Germain football club, while sponsoring cultural events such as last year’s exhibit Human Rights and the Islamic World at the Institute of the Arab World.
But behind the glitz, the money, and the politics, the arrival of this iconic collection of Indian extravagant jewels speaks to the centuries-old connection between France and India. Some of the most astonishing pieces in the Al Thani collection come from the court of Tipu Sultan, including a bejeweled tiger’s head (a symbol of his rule), torn from his throne by British soldiers, and an enigmatic golden fortune-telling device.