Recreating the imperial figures of Padshah
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture unveils seven sculptures and a book on Humayun, ahead of the opening of a site museum on the Humayun's tomb.
The timing is right, though the times may not be. As the monarch who laid the foundation of the Mughal dynasty by establishing his seat in Delhi, Nasir Ud-din Baig Muhammad Khan—better known as Humayun—held Delhi’s throne twice in between a long Persian exile, from 1530 to 1540, and from 1555 to 1556. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is honouring the long-dead emperor with a museum at Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi.
Work on the site, which is located beneath the mausoleum, started in 2017. Its geometric lines are in concord with the combined principles of Mughal architecture and Persian landscaping. Once it is opened to the public later in the year, visitors will be treated to an architectural feast of antiquity and iconography, made even more real in the natural light entering the gallery through skylights. It is also the first contemporary museum to be built on the grounds of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in India.
The trust roped in Scottish figurative artist Jill Watson and Austrian art historian and advisor, Ebba Koch to create works that bring the sovereign to life. Watson is known for her evocative sculptures, while Koch is an advisor to the AKTC.
The end result is Seven Humayuns: Planets, Astrology and the Padshah, bronze sculptures by Watson, and The Planetary King: Humayun Padshah, Inventor and Visionary, a book by Koch. Ratish Nanda, the director of AKTC and the moving force behind the project, says,
“Through five years of extensive research, we’ve tried to recreate his life and interests.” The emperor was an avid bibliophile, a scientifically inclined inventor and a patron of the arts and architecture. Of his many noteworthy traits, an obsession with astrology is well recorded. Astrologers associate each day of the week with a planet and recommend certain tasks and colours for their clients accordingly.
Humayun would dress in the so-advised colours. “I’ve worked with bronze for 40 years,” Watson says; she began work on the Humayun sculptures in 2019. The first one was completed in 2021, and the seventh towards the end of 2022. These imperial figures were briefly opened for the public in March at Delhi’s India International Centre as a preview to the inauguration.
The stately statues are emblematic of a sovereign in celestial rapture: each Humayun head has a regal tilt as the figure contemplates the planet held in its raised hand. The intricately designed, delicately embroidered robes, jamas and belts differ in colour and design, setting each one apart: white on Monday for the moon, red on Tuesday for Mars, blue or purple on Wednesday for Mercury, a yellow colour of metals like gold and copper for Thursday inspired by Jupiter, green on Friday for Venus, black for Saturn on Saturday, and a resplendent yellow for the sun on Sunday.
Kudos for meticulousness goes to the sculptor who has recreated the Taaj-e-Izzat, a headdress Humayun had designed for himself. But the show is obviously a concerted team effort: it was Koch who guided Watson on the details after extensively studying miniature painting techniques, period textiles and costumes of the time. Together, they have made a long-forgotten dynasty a bit more memorable.