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From the Emperors’ Albums

Two-Year Celebration Of India Begins

Imagine if the works of George Segal, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol were mostly confined to picture books and almost never hung on a wall.

That’s the way the Mughal emperors enjoyed much of their artwork in the 16th and 17th centuries. But in a modern twist, art enthusiasts will be able to view some of the picture book illustrations on the walls of the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery starting Saturday.

“Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin” will showcase 86 works from the prized collections of two Mughal emperors — Shah Jahan and Jahangir. The pieces were originally part of patchwork albums with detailed Arabesques and illustrations of animals, musical presentations and other scenes.

The display, which will run through Aug. 3, will be followed by an exhibition this fall called “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur.” Together, the exhibits will kick off a two-year “Celebration of India” on the National Mall.

Members of Congress including Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) are scheduled to attend the opening gala held by the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery tonight, along with business leaders, art patrons and other public officials, said Amanda Williams of the Smithsonian’s Office of Public Affairs and Marketing.

Wilson “has been a big supporter of the Indian-American community, and strengthening our relationship between the two nations,” said Ryan Murphy, the Congressman’s press secretary. “He’s always been a fan of how hardworking they are, and how successful they’ve been in the United States.”

The black-tie event will feature musical performances by Roya Bahrami and Alif Laila on the Indian santoor and sitar. Ronen Sen, ambassador of India to the United States, will be in attendance, and His Highness Gaj Singh II, the Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur, India, will be a special guest. The Tata Group, India’s largest private sector group, is sponsoring the event.

The albums from which the picture book art in “Muraqqa” originated were put together with calligraphy and artwork on opposing pages, and were commissioned by the emperors for their personal enjoyment. There are six albums in the collection, most with rich borders and intricate designs.

“Garden and Cosmos” will contain 61 paintings, including images of the deities Krishna and Rama, and a silk-embroidered tent. The works were influenced by yoga philosophy.

Both of the exhibitions will be accompanied by educational programs, Williams said.

The Freer Gallery of Art is located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue Southwest, and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is at 1050 Independence Ave. SW. The museums are open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free.

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