His paintings are amongst the most prized in the world, but did you know that the Dutch master Rembrandt was a big collector of Mughal curios. So inspired was he by them, that he did a whole series of etchings and portraits of Mughal rulers like Jehangir and Shah Jahan who were his contemporaries!
In the 17th century, the Dutch were among the biggest traders who sailed the seas weaving their way across the ports of India. Frequent travel brought with it constant cultural exchanges – while the Europeans brought the idea of perspective or depth in paintings from the masters back home, they took back exotic pieces of art and miniatures. In Holland, these paintings were known as ‘Suratse teeckeningen’ or ‘drawings from Surat’, as Surat was the main trading port of the Mughal empire.
Rembrandt apparently collected all that he could find on the Mughals (he had a full album of Mughal portraits), and between 1656 – 1666 he made a series of 25 drawings based on Mughal themes. He made portraits of Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Dara Shikoh, as well as sketches of anonymous Mughal noblemen. Rembrandt was most fascinated with the Indian turbans and shawls seen in these miniatures and copied them in his other paintings as well. It is not known if Rembrandt made these drawings for his personal use or as commissions.
Today, Rembrandt’s sketches of the Mughals can be seen in museums and private collections around the world. One can only guess at their worth given what a rarity they are.
To see the original painting as shown in the picture above, do visit the ‘India & the World’ exhibition which is currently on display at CSMVS Museum in Mumbai.
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In the 16th century, Surat was the place to be. So great was the economic clout of its port, that the European merchants, especially the British and the Dutch vied with each other in the docks and marketplaces for access and their rivalries were so great, that they even took it to their graves, quite literally!
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