November 3rd marks the birth anniversary of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. He remains to be one of the most controversial figures in history, and seemingly the least favourite of Mughals. This is why, it is a wonder to spot a dazzling diorama of Aurangzeb’s 50th birthday celebration – in Germany! Let’s take a look at it :
The Mughal Empire and Europe
By the 17th century, the Mughal empire had reached it’s peak under Aurangzeb – it’s fame spreading as far as Europe! The Dutch painter Rembrandt had attempted Mughal-like sketches of Shahjahan and his son Dara Shikoh; Aurangzeb’s daughter Zebunnissa inspired Lalla Rookh – an Oriental romance by Thomas Moore; and then there was this magnificent depiction of Aurangzeb in Durbar-mode on his 50th birthday. In short, Europe was quite fascinated by India and it’s palaces.
‘The Royal Household at Delhi on the Occasion of the Birthday of the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb’
In the piece, you can spot Aurangzeb sitting on his throne, under a canopy, surrounded by 137 enamelled figurines of men, animals, gold and silver objects! He’s supposedly receiving at least 32 birthday gifts from the Empire’s most powerful princes, and even the Chinese! [that would make any European King slightly …jealous? ]
As part of the birthday celebrations, you can take a closer look at the popular Mughal weighing ceremony.
To be precise, a museum information brochure states that this diorama originally used 5223 diamonds, 189 rubies, 175 emeralds, 53 pearls, 2 cameos, and 1 sapphire. Today though, 391 precious stones and pearls are missing.
Yet, it is as exquisite as ever, and one of the star attractions of the Green Vault (Museum) in Dresden, Germany.
Who Made This?
It took the genius of Johann Melchor Dinglinger and his family, eight years of work between 1701-1708 to create his ultimate ‘magnum opus’. This was not a commissioned piece; Augustus the Strong was delighted to see it, and acquired it for 58,485 Thalers (the currency of the time). This was way more than what he spent constructing his opulent castle at Moritzburg!
For the Dinglingers, authenticity was of top-priority and according to the Museum’s catalog, a lot of research went into the piece including various travel accounts. The one liberty that the goldsmith took, was of including a “birthday gift” of a Golden coffee set. This was a piece sold by Dinglinger to Augustus the Strong in 1701.
But why would ‘Augustus the Strong’ spend so much on a diorama that depicts Aurangzeb?
When Augustus came to the throne in 1694, Aurangzeb’s fame as the “seizer of the world” had already spread far and wide. He was the very embodiment of absolute wealth and power – and was quite a source of inspiration for the European King.
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According to Dr. Larry Silver, professor of art history at the University of Pennsylvania, the Mughal empire had acquired a legendary reputation at this time, becoming a symbol of
power and wealth [that] could only be imagined and envied by European rulers … a fairytale image of magnificence to be admired and imitated.
No wonder then, that this object became one of the most valued possessions of the King.
#Was Aurangzeb ever depicted with as much grandeur as Shah Jahan? Who was a better ruler, Aurangzeb or his father Shah Jahan? Why?
#What made Aurangzeb such an inspiring figure? What makes him a controversial figure?
# analyse different Mughal paintings with your students. Have them imagine the opulence of the Mughal court during the time of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb – and create their own diorama of a Mughal palace!
# Have students write an imaginary account of what it would have been like to attend the Emperor’s Birthday Party.
If you’re as blown over by this diorama of Aurangzeb’s Birthday as we are, don’t forget to share it ahead!