Crafts of the Punjab are given showcase in Coventry exhibition

Golden Throne of the first Sikh Maharajah of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh

Take a cultural journey to enjoy beautiful creations from across the world, some of them dating back centuries.

The Herbert in Coventry is showing Crafts of the Punjab until January 21. It is a wide-ranging collection of pieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum in an exhibition put together specially for the gallery, with items from the second to nineteenth centuries. Some are by craftspeople from the region, whether Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or Muslim, and others by colonialists who depicted what they saw at the time, and whose paintings serve as a useful historical record too.

The first items seen in the gallery are some lovely Buddhist stone carvings, including one from the second century depicting the infant Buddha’s first bath, plus a Bodhisattva Maitreya sculpture from the Swat Valley in the second-fourth century. There’s also a Buddha head carving from the third-fifth century.

The collection swiftly moves on to sculptures of Hindu deities Krishna and Balarama, amongst others from the ninth and tenth centuries, and small and delicate carvings of figures from the Jain religion.

Again there is a big jump forward in time, to the Punjab seen through the eyes of watercolourist William Carpenter in around 1856, with crowded street scenes in Lahore, and the mosque, all painted in attractive bright colours. The city in the 1860s and 70s is also depicted in monochrome pictures, capturing the mosque and the monument on the site where first Sikh Maharajah Ranjit Singh was cremated. Other photos depict 1870s Amritsar, site of the important Golden Temple which he renovated.

A section on Arms and Armour includes an early nineteenth century shield with small birds and animals engraved on it, and other intricately-patterned pieces of metalwork.

A textiles section includes a watercolour of various carpet designs, and some flower designs from 1905. There are nineteenth century clothes, beautifully embroidered, including one item with little figures and Muslim, Hindu and Sikh imagery combined, from 1835. Some items of furniture complete the exhibition, including wooden ones with inlaid ebony and ivory. The most dramatic exhibit is the Golden Throne made for the Ranjit Singh.

The exhibition briefly tells the history of the Punjab, through its ancient times, the reign of Singh, then the annexation of the Punjab to the British ten years after his death in 1839, and the fact that it’s now split between India and Pakistan. A lot of different areas of creativity are covered in the displays, which necessarily means they can’t go into depth but it’s a useful introduction to lots of art forms and types of detailed work, which could be explored in more depth presumably in the full V&A collection.




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