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Historic treasures from Indian, French archives

Historic treasures from Indian, French archives

A unique Indo-French exhibition, which draws from the archives of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and the National Museum in New Delhi, will open a historical window into the lives of 12 Indian rulers and French-speaking officers serving under them from 1750-1850.

A collaborative exhibition, 'Rajas, Nawabs and Firangees, Treasures from the French and the Indian archives (1750-1850)' will showcase never-before-seen manuscripts, paintings and artefacts that offer glimpses of the Indian court life through the eyes of French-speaking officers – few of whom acquired high military positions and were endowed with 'jagirs'.

While many of the erstwhile officers lived and died anonymously with few records except for accounts of battles and ship logs, most of the fortunate ones, such as Jean-Baptiste Gentil or Antoine Polier, brought back invaluable collections of Indian manuscripts – some of which find space in the exhibition, which is curated by Samuel Berthet.

The exhibits are contextualised within the rise of British East India Company over the subcontinent, and the successive defeats of the army of the French East India Company at its hands.

In the first section, on display are portraits of 12 duos of French officers, and the Indian rulers in whose court they served, covering most of the Indian territory, from present Kerala to Punjab through Bengal, Awadh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Poona, Hyderabad and Madurai.

The second part shows a selection of the wide collection of Indian sacred texts preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale, the French National Library. Apart from various aspects of Hinduism, the collection also holds manuscripts related to Islam, Buddhism, Tantrism, Jainism and also the ancient religion of the Parsis.

The exhibition's third leg is an opening looking at a rich and complex theme of Firangee paintings in the light of the French experience, and answers how foreigners projected themselves during their sojourn in the East, and how they were represented by indigenous miniature artists.

The show displays European themes in Indian court paintings since western images circulated in the Indian court and painters took inspiration from them to adapt them in their own way; and books on Indian culture (botany, history and numismatic) commissioned by French persona, and painted by Indian artists for a French readership.

French Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said, "This exhibition brings a new perspective to Indo-French ties as it highlights hitherto unseen archives and documents on Indo-French encounters in the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibition also shows that the roots of the strategic partnership between our two countries can be traced back to this rich past and that, just like today, strategic relations in earlier days were also cultural relations."

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