December 5, 2018 Comments off

Exhibit at Freer Sackler until August 18, 2019<

We often associate frankincense and myrrh with Yemen – if you wish to learn more about what was there since ancient times and what is being destroyed now, go and see this exhibit and also read this blog about


Fascinating and sad. Looting has gone on for centuries on this crossroad of international trade between the Mediterranean region, Asia and the Middle East,  but the vicious multisided war has  now been going on since 2015 with no end in sight.

No cheers,




New Delhi, India

You want to stay cool when visiting  New Delhi?

Visit Humayun’s Tomb and next to it  the Sunder Nursery with  Moghul Gardens  recently brought back to life by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.  I remember getting lost in the Tomb and Garden complex surrounding Humayun’s tomb built by his chief consort in 1569/70 and said to have been an inspiration for Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal.   Humayun, the son of Babur,  who swept down from the valleys of Central Asia, to conquer India, was the second emperor of the Mughal Empire.



new delhi

Categories: India, International

Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India

Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India, The Getty Center, Los Angeles, till June 24th

Rembrandt, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and drawings of Mughal portraits ?

Where did Rembrandt see Indian Mughal portraits? We are not sure where he might have seen such portraits; one opinion is that they were in Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna and were painted over in the 18th century. Rembrandt had enough access to things Indian, he collected several Indian antiques, imported by the VOC and brought to Amsterdam; and Rembrandt was curious in subject matters beyond European and biblical scenes. This exhibition shows side by side Mughal originals and some 25 of Rembrandt’s drawings of the same subject.







Six-armed dancing Ganesha from India, Denver Art Museum.

An exhibit developed in collaboration with the National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

On view through January 13, 2019

Enough time to travel to Denver and visit Ganesha in person- the remover of obstacles, known for granting wealth and success, found throughout the Asian subcontinent and across geographical and religious lines.



Cambodian Ganesha
Cambodian Ganesha


June 15, 2018 Comments off

The David Collection

THE HUMAN FIGURE IN ISLAMIC ART, The David Collection, Copenhagen

This issue has always interested and puzzled me.

There is still uncertainty with regard to attitudes about figurative art in Islamic culture. This exhibit in Denmark – now closed – tackled the delicate issue, together with a great catalogue. An article in May 2018 ASIAN ART by JULIET HIGHET and titled THE HUMAN FIGURE IN ISLAMIC ART explains what we know and what we do not know about figurative art. She reports that there is no explicit passage in the Qur’an forbidding figurative depictions of humans. It is the written traditions that are more critical on this subject; and three dimensional portrayals seem to be more objectionable than paintings because sculptures and reliefs express a greater reality of a divinely created world. We find human figures in paintings and we find and we see the Prophet’s partially hidden face together with his winged steed Buraq – often – with a female face. So what are we to believe? It might help to keep in perspective the world of politics during the early times of Islam, the Islamic revolt against Christian Byzantine symbolism, and the influence of Persian portraiture painters. Great art patrons like Akhbar and his son Jahangir and his grandson Shah Jahan all encouraged local and imported artists in their own traditions portraying more human figures. And it helped me to keep in mind that religious art and human figures in churches and temples played a great public role whereas figurative art in Islamic art was often developed for and in the private realm.

The author Juliet Highet is a writer, journalist and photographer who writes and publishes on a wide range of Arab, South Asian, East Asian and African cultures. One of her books is: Frankincense: Oman’s Gift to the World. Got to order this one….


human figure in islamic art


Water -harvesting system below ground………thousands of years old…….

The book THE VANISHING STEPWELL OF INDIA, by Vitoria Lautman, foreword by Divay Gupta, Merrell Publisher explores
75 subterranean wells throughout India. Stepwells serve a number of purposes in addition to providing a community with water – – they were civic centers, active places for worship as well as refuges from the challenging climate. Each successive subterranean level often was with beautiful Hindu and islamic influenced architectural pavilions providing shade. During the 19th century it is estimated that several thousands of stepwells were in operation. Over time they silted up and were filled in but recently an effort has started to reactivate and de-silt step wells to once again collect water.

vanishing stepwell of india


Courtesy Metropolitan Museum


Many of us have seen, appraised, bought, sold so-called Coromandel screens. Chinese lacquer screens often with red, brown or black ground with large landscape and pavilions scenes and often scenes of dancers illustrating Ming dynasty and earlier theatrical dramas. We call the screens Coromandels screens but the term came into use only at the beginning of the 20th century. Coromandel because the screens were shipped from China via India’s Coromandel Coast of southeast India. In China the term for these screen was and is kuancai – meaning that the artisans hollowed out, carved and incised many layers of dried lacquer and filled in the gaps with colored lacquer or silver or gold. A time consuming technique.

Not much is written about Coromandel screens and this article in The Oriental Ceramic Society’s May 2018 Newsletter by HE Feng, a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of East Asian Art History at Heidelberg University explains the history of these screens exported from China since the late 1700s.