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‘Eastern Encounters’ at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse

For this week’s virtual travel, we venture quite further afield than normal as we take a journey to the Indian subcontinent. However, this will all be done in Scotland via a visit to the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse as we explore their latest exhibition- ‘Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Painting and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent’. First, let’s give a brief update on the Palace itself as it just reopened on the 23rd of July.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse Now Reopened

After being closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were thrilled when we saw the announcement that the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Queen’s Gallery were reopening! Sites and attractions are slowly starting to open again here in Edinburgh (and throughout Scotland) and we are happy to provide you with timely updates when possible.

If you plan to visit the Palace, keep in mind that it’s best to do an online booking in advance to ensure that you can secure the day and time slot of your choice. They are using a timed ticket system so they can reduce the number of guests at any one time to allow for social distancing.

Regarding the tour itself, there is a one-way route in place and a couple of (tiny) rooms are closed in the Historic Apartments due to the difficulty in social distancing in those locations. However, the good news is that the Palace has made up for this by adding a new stop on the tour- the Royal Kitchens! Remember, the Palace is a working royal palace, so the kitchens are still used when the Queen is in residence. I’ll leave it at that for now as it is fun to learn more on the actual tour.

The Café in the Mews Courtyard is open but is currently only available for takeaway. The Queens Gallery Shop is also open with a few minor changes. Be aware that you must wear a face covering and you may be asked to queue outside to limit the number of customers inside. They also offer hand sanitiser to use upon entering the shop. Be sure to visit the Palace's website for the most up-to-date information and to do your booking in advance. With those updates covered, we can now head into the Queen’s Gallery and explore their new, fabulous exhibition!

‘Eastern Encounters’

The Queen’s Gallery also reopened on the 23rd of July along with their latest exhibition, Eastern Encounters. There are many fantastic works of art and artefacts on display from the Indian subcontinent (an area that encompasses modern-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka). However, this post will highlight some of our favourites and leave the rest for you to hopefully be able to explore in person.

Longtime readers of the blog know of my love for anthropology, museums, and art history. Therefore, our visit to the new exhibition was a no-brainer. The curators have done an excellent job at providing a wide-ranging selection of works from the Royal Collection. There is a special focus on manuscripts and paintings as the region has a rich history in these traditions. Furthermore, the art on display relates to the Mughal Empire which reigned from the early 1500s until the mid-1800s. The British monarchy had connections to the Mughals throughout that period and the items featured reflect that relationship as well as the diversity of the region (regarding religion, language, culture, etc.).

One spectacular piece is a scroll of the Quran that dates to the late 18th century. Amazingly, all 114 chapters of the Quran are on the narrow strip of paper written in unbelievably tiny text! Look carefully at the pictures below that demonstrate the exquisite craftsmanship that went into such an important religious artefact. It was most likely a gift to King George IV from the Nawab of the Carnatic.

In 1830, the painting pictured (done in a European style) was sent to King George IV by Akbar Shah II. Unfortunately, the King died by the time the painting reached England and it was instead given to the new king, William IV.

There are also beautiful Hindu paintings on display from Northern India. The Gallery points out that, ‘in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, dynasties of Hindu rajas ruled a large area of northern India called Rajasthan. They commissioned their artists and scribes to create paintings and manuscripts for bhakti (personal devotion)’. Therefore, the paintings on display are images of ‘earthly encounters with Hindu gods intended to connect the soul with the divine’.

Buddha (c. 1800)

The Mughals' wealth is legendary, and you can see a hint of that displayed in this early 17th century dagger and hilt which are made of water crucible steel, rock crystal, gold, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, wood, and textile.

Another early 17th century exquisite artefact is this Mughal spinel. The exhibition points out that spinels are , ‘gemmologically similar to rubies but have a great lustre, durability, and hardness. The Mughal emperors considered them superior to all precious stones. This spinel is inscribed in Persian with the name of its previous owners’.

Here are a some of the beautifully illuminated manuscripts on display:

The Holy Quran (1613)

The exhibition also highlights the remarkable relationship that Queen Victoria had with the Indian subcontinent by displaying gifts given to her as well as some of her personal items. Queen Victoria was fascinated with the region and even started studying Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) in 1887. One of her Hindustani journals is on exhibit which she wrote during her lessons. There also is a magnificently illuminated manuscript of the Queen’s travels in Scotland translated into Hindi and decorated with hand painted photographic prints.

Here are some more favourites from the exhibition:

I hope you have enjoyed our journey to the Indian subcontinent via our visit to the Queen’s Gallery and the Eastern Encounters exhibition. If you come to Edinburgh and visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse, be sure to also get a ticket to the Queen’s Gallery. We only skimmed the surface and there are plenty more fantastic Eastern art and artefacts on display. The exhibition runs until the 31st of January 2021.

While you are in Edinburgh, we also recommend that you join Sami and Sawyer- our Golden Retriever tour guide. Conveniently, our 'Castle to Palace' tour ends just across the street from the Palace of Holyroodhouse/Queen’s Gallery. Therefore, you could join us for that tour (which starts daily at 11:00 am), grab lunch at the Palace Café, and then book an afternoon visit for the Palace and Gallery.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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