The Salar Jung Museum is an art museum located at Darushifa, on the southern bank of the Musi River in the city of Hyderabad, Telangana, India. It is one of the three National Museums of India. It has a collection of sculptures, paintings, carvings, textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, metallic artefacts, carpets, clocks, and furniture from Japan, China, Burma, Nepal, India, Persia, Egypt, Europe, and North America. The museum’s collection was sourced from the property of the Salar Jung family. It is one of the largest museums in the world.
The Salar Jung Museum was established in 1951. The major portion of the collection of the museum was acquired by Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, popularly known as Salar Jung III. In the absence of any direct descendants of Salar Jung III, the Government of India appointed a Committee to administer the Salar Jung Estate. Later on with the idea of perpetuating his name, the Salar Jung Museum was brought into existence on 16th December, 1951 in Diwan Deodi, the residential palace of Salar Jung III and opened to the public by Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India. In 1958, the Government of India took over the museum through a compromise deed. Till 1958 this museum was administered by the Salar Jung Estate Committee. Thereafter the Museum continued to be administered by the Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs, Government of India till 1961. In 1961, through an Act of Parliament, the Salar Jung Museum along with its library was declared as an “Institution of National Importance”.
As part of the re-organization of museum, two huge buildings were constructed on either of side of the main building. Plans are on afoot to arrange the galleries on a wide range like all the objects belonging to European countries to be housed in the Western Block and all the objects of East and Far East countries are to be housed in the Eastern Block. The oriental and Indian objects will be housed in the present main building.
As one of the museums of “National importance” in India, the Salar Jung Museum is meant to function as a cultural centre through its exhibits, research projects and planned activities.
The collections of the Salar Jung Museum are the mirrors of the past human environment, ranging from 2nd century B.C to early 20th century A.D of different cultures such as Greek, Roman, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Islamic of various countries and of various materials.
The collection of the Museum can be divided into Indian Art, Middle Eastern Art, Far Eastern Art, European Art and Children’s Section. Apart from this, a gallery is devoted to the illustrious Salar Jung family, which was mainly responsible for acquiring the collection.
The Indian Art Objects Comprises of stone sculptures, bronze images, painted textiles (Kalamkari), wood Carvings, Jade carvings, metal-ware, manuscripts arms and armor etc.
Middle East is represented through its art objects from Persia, Syria and Egypt covering the diverse media like carpets, paper (manuscripts), ceramics, glass, metal ware, furniture, lacquer etc.
Salar Jung Museum is one of the few Indian museums which can boast of a fairy extensive collection of Far Eastern Art consisting of Sino-Japanese art objects of porcelain, bronze, enamel, lacquer ware, embroidery, paintings, wood and inlay work.
European collection comprising of art objects ranging from resplendent and excellent examples of oil paintings, aesthetically attractive glass objects to majestic furniture, splendid examples of ivory, enamel ware and clocks.
The objects on display in the children’s section of the museum are a testimony to the vast range of interest and diverse nature of Salar Jung III, in collecting objects. The objects housed in the section provide informal education to the children apart from providing delight to them.
The museum building, semicircular in shape with 38 galleries, spread on two floors, displays only a part of the original collection. The ground floor has 20 galleries and the first floor has 18 galleries. The exhibits on different subjects are displayed in separate galleries. Each gallery is huge and has many artifacts on display including ones dating back to the 4th century
South Indian Bronzes
The bronze collections of the museum can give a fairly good idea of the intimate association of this medium of expression with religion in the days by gone. The earliest bronze figure in the Museum’s collection belongs to Late Pallava period depicting a standing Vishnu with usual attributes. The big size Nataraja displayed in the gallery depicts Lord Siva performing Ananda Tandava symbolizing five features of the Lord i.e., creation, preservation, destruction, salvation and omnipotence. The museum has about half a dozen Chola images. The three pieces collected by the late Salar Jung III are Chandrashekhara and two Devis, belonging to 12th century. The museum also added at least three Chola bronzes to the existing collection through acquisition. Out of these three icons, one is of Vishnu, and the other two are of Sridevi and Bhudevi.
Minor Arts of South India
Wood carvings occupy a significant place in the history of Indian art. The early scriptures furnish detailed description of various types of sacred trees and plants which could be used for carving the figures of gods and goddesses. In this gallery the visitors can have a glimpse of wood-carvings of Nirmal work, metal ware and Ivory carvings. The major part of the gallery houses South Indian wood carvings
Though the collection of stone sculptures in the Museum is scanty, yet they are quite significant as they show the characteristic features of the different styles that prevailed in India. An excellent standing figure of Buddha of 3rd century A.D. unearthed from Nelakondapally is exhibited in the gallery. The figure of Sesha Sai Vishnu reclining on the serpent bed is a good example of Kakatiya period. The other sculptures housed in the gallery include Jain figures, Gandhara style Buddha figures and secular pieces.
The textile collection of the museum is an important one which represents vastness and variety. The museum houses a few exquisite examples of tie and dye or Bandhani textiles and a few patola sarees. The collection of Kalamkari textiles in the museum is one of the richest of its kind in India and gives a connected stylistic and technical evolution of Kalamkari paintings and prints of Andhra Pradesh. In the textile gallery an attempt has been made to acquaint the visitors with the rich tradition of Indian textile through varied specimens of fabric as well as costumes, belonging to the last three centuries.
The Salar Jung Museum has a good collection of ivory carvings from different parts of the world. The collection of ivory gives an excellent idea of ivory as a medium of plastic art. The chessmen, chausar sets of Ivory in the collection form an interesting group. Amongst the objects of European ivory carvings, a set of our ivory chairs said to have been presented by Louis XVI of France to Tipu Sultan of Mysore deserves special mention. The collection of carved paper cutters also forms a splendid group. The large size paper cutter catches the attention of the onlooker. Apart from the above, there are also procession scenes, delicately carved boxes, flywhisks, figures of animals and bedsteads.
Arms and Armour
The collection of arms and armour in the Salar Jung Museum is one of such rare treasures which contain amazing variety and enormous quantity of old arms as well as fire-arms. The arms and armour collection include swords, daggers, battle axes, spears, goads, maces, bows and arrows and gun-powder containers. The defensive weapons include shields, chest plates, helmets and suit of armour belonging to different lands and people. The notable historical personalities whose weapons present in the collection are the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb, Tipu Sultan, Mohammed Shah and Bahadur Shah. A beautiful sword of Qutub Shahi period, which bears an inscription mention the names of Sultan Abul Hasan and Abdullah Qutub Shah is also displayed. Amongst the Arab weapons and carved swords with hilts, having diamond quillons and hunting daggers known as Quma are of prime importance.
Jade is a semi precious stone, varies in colour from almost pure white, emerald green to a dark black green. The term jade includes Nephrite and Jadeite. The collection includes wine cups (plain and studded with precious stones) plates, cups, book stands belt buckles, arm rests, flywhisk handles and hair pins, etc. Most of the Indian jade objects are dated from17th to 19th centuries based on style, decoration and polish and can be said that they were carved during Mughal and later Mughal period.
Indian Miniature Paintings
The study of Miniature paintings of India is quite fascinating. Some fine examples of Mughal miniatures are displayed in this gallery. The romantic land of Rajasthan contributed the lion’s share in the field of miniature painting. The Rajasthani school co-existed with the Mughal school showing indigenous character. The excellent groups of mid – 18th century paintings showing court scenes, saints, the procession of a Raja, etc. are from Pahari, Basholi – Kangra region. There are a good number of miniature paintings also to reflect inherent charms and delicacies of the Deccan Qalam. The museum also possesses a few interesting leaves of early Jain Kalpasutras which bear illustrations in early style of Western Indian paintings, i.e. 14th and 15th centuries A.D. A good number of works, representing Ragas and Raginis, portraits of nobility and Krishna Leela themes were also added to the collection of the museum.
The works of about eighty five artists found representation in the museum’s collection. The departure from the tradition of classical art in India started with the emergence of Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), a prominent painter from South India. Raja Ravi Varma was trained in the Western traditions and painted a great deal in oil medium, depicting themes from Indian mythology and classics incorporating Indian subjects. Only two paintings viz., The Kerala Beauty and Stolen Interview by Ravi Varma adorn the gallery. The exponents of the Bengal School represented in the collection are RabindranathTagore, Nandalal Bose,Chughtai and V.S. Maroji. Have you not heard his silent steps and Musician, the two works of Abanindranath Tagore are found in the collection of the museum. Nandalal Bose, one of the pioneers of modern renaissance of Indian paintings represents a more classic phase of the Bengal school. He is represented by his two important works namely Vasant and Villagers around fire. Among the note-worthy experts who evolved a Neo-idiom in art, the museum has in its proud possession the works of artists like M.F.Hussain, K.K. Hebbar, N.S.Bendu, Panikar, K.S.Kulkarni, P.T.Reddy, Paidi Raju and Dinakar Koushik.
The word Bidri took its name from the city of Bidar situated about 120 kilometers north-west of Hyderabad. There are two techniques in use in preparing Bidri objects, namely Tahnashin and Zarbaland. In Tahnashin (deeply cut work), the designs are engraved deeply and the gold or silver pieces are laid in the trenches. In the Zarbaland technique the design is raised. The Bidri work was not confined to Bidar but was also practised at Hyderabad, Lucknow, Pune and to a limited extent in Kashmir also. The design is usually inlaid with silver foils. The bright silver design on a contrasting black body creates excellent effect. The old Bidri ware in the museum is represented by huqqa bottoms, pandans, trays, surahis, aftabas, vases, etc.
Middle Eastern Carpets
The Persian carpets occupy a unique place in the museum’s middle-eastern art collection. Beautiful specimens with intricate weaving and decked with different ornamental patterns, particularly from all the important looms of Persia, namely Kashna, Bokhara, Tabriz, Kirman, Shiraz etc., are represented in the gallery.
Arabic, Persian Manuscripts
The Arabic and Persian manuscripts are the most valuable collection of the museum. The earliest manuscript on display is a Holy Quran written on parchment in Kufic script and is datable to 9th century A.D. Besides, a number of Holy Qurans both illuminated and embellished adorn the gallery. The other noteworthy manuscripts on display are: the Quartrain of Omar Khayyam written from Sultan Hussain of Persia and autographed by princess Jehanara Begum, the favourite daughter of Shah Jehan, an illuminated Holy Quran, Shah-nama by Firadausi written by Mohd-b-Abdul Rahman Sammarqandi ( 1424 A.D. ) etc.
Egyptian & Syrian Art
Though the major part of the Egyptian art objects on display are only copies made after the originals from the important tombs of the Egyptian kings, yet the visitor can have an idea of the art traditions and the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt through these objects. The art objects consist of furniture, appliqué work and ivory carvings. The centre of attraction is the superb replica of Tutankhamen throne datable to1340 B.C., the original of which is in the Cairo Museum in Egypt. Though a copy made in 20thcentury, this throne easily acquaint visitors with the excellent workmanship of the original. The Syrian art objects comprise of a good number of furniture items with magnificent workmanship inlayed with mother of pearl. A majority of them are inscribed.
Far Eastern Art
Salar Jung Museum is one of the few Indian museums which can boast of a fairly extensive collection of Far Eastern Art consisting of Sino-Japanese art objects. The artists from this region showed their talent in every conceivable material. The collection includes porcelain, bronze, enamel, lacquer, embroidery, painting, wood and inlay work.
The remarkable Chinese collection of this museum datable from 12th to 19th centuries represents possibly the most comprehensive range of export wares and enables us to compare and rank with the Chinese porcelain collection of world repute like the Topkapi Saranji Museum at Istanbul in Turkey and the Aradebil collection at Teheran. The earliest porcelain ware that reached the outside world was undoubtedly the “Celadon”, a ware with a typical grey green glaze. This ware was said to be having several mysterious qualities. The snuff bottles form an outstanding group. In the making of these bottles, especially the interior painted ones, the Chinese baffled the entire world. The objects on display in this medium include lacquered and inlaid screens, lacquered boxes, snuff bottles, vases and furniture. The collection of Chinese ivory in the museum is very interesting for its intricacy and skilful carving. Mostly it comprises figures, a few elaborately carved tasks and lacquered ivory figures that are datable to 18th to 19th centuries.
Though Japan is looked upon as a natural corollary to China from the stand-point of culture and art history, it has evolved its own identity in the realm of art as well as culture. The earliest pieces in the museum’s collection are blue and white porcelain items datable to 17th century. The museum has an abundant collection of the popular Satsuma ware consisting of vases, bowls and plates and also small delicate tea sets of various sizes. The collection of Imari porcelain in the museum is interesting. Porcelain of this group is heavy, coarse and grayish but its roughness is concealed by masses of dark cloudy blue set off with Indian red and gilding. The Museum has a few good examples of lacquer works which indicate the perfection, refinement and beauty of Japanese workmanship. A special mention maybe made here of Japanese embroideries, which are very beautifully done with multi-colour threads on silk. The objects like waterfall, lion, birds, etc. of 19th and 20th centuries, their exquisite workmanship and perfect treatment of the subjects, are of a considerable attraction to the visitors in the museum. A remarkable collection of Japanese swords and daggers are also to be seen in the museum. The museum possesses Samurai swords with ivory sheaths, representing the Katana (large sword) as well as Wakizash, (small sword) and one of them even having a Kodzaka ( a small knife used as a missile weapon) fitted into the sheath of a large sword.
Far Eastern Statuary
The gallery presents an interesting picture of the sculptural art of countries like Nepal and Tibet, which are considered as the countries on the roof-top of the world. The statuary here is distinctly of three mediums, such as bronze, metal and wood. The majority of the objects in the gallery are Buddhist sculptures that show the everlasting impact of Buddhism which has spread from the Indian sub-continent to faraway lands like China and Japan. Beside Buddhist statuary, the gallery also represents a very interesting array of figures of Samurai warriors of Japan.
Among Indian museums, barring a few exceptions, the Salar Jung Museum stands unique for its European collection, comprises of art objects ranging from resplendent and excellent examples of oil paintings, attractive glass objects to majestic furniture, splendid examples of ivories, enamelware clocks etc. While discussing the outstanding pieces of European art, a reference may be made to the wooden statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta. In this statue ‘good’ and ‘evil’ have been depicted by the sculptor symbolically. The imagery has been taken from Goethe’s famous German drama “Dr. Faust”. The skilful use of the same log of wood for carving two entirely different figures in the front and back is a testimony to the command of the sculptor over this medium and imagination. This piece is displayed in European Paintings gallery.
Oil and water paintings form an important part of the European collections. Technically and aesthetically the works on display are excellent examples of the craft. They are also reflections of the public taste and artistic interest of the period. Though the major group on display is of mainly of British 19th century paintings, the gallery also shows examples of traditional French school, beautiful Italian landscapes and the picturesque scenes that the Munich painters had made popular. Cooper’s Cattle in Repose and four other works exhibited in the Museum, show fine views of English pastoral scene punctuated by life-like sheep and cows. Italian pictures represented in the Museum include the works of Canaletto, Hayez, Blass, Marc Aldine, Diziani, Matteini and a few lesser known painters. Canaletto’s oil painting Piazza San Marco exhibited in the Salar Jung Museum is a delightful piece, combining beautiful architecture, pleasing forms, pleasant natural scenery and excellent perspective. Hayez’s sweet composition Soap Bubbles showing a boy blowing bubbles which are afloat in the air affords much delight to the visitors.
Among the European countries which took to producing porcelain, France stands out for its exquisite works of art, which dominated the world for a long time. The porcelain objects particularly from the place called ‘Sevres’ holds highest place among the ceramics. It was the Germans who got the credit of manufacturing true porcelain in Europe during the mid-18th century The painted vases of the Sevres factory available in this museum are valuable because they represent landscapes, costumes and ornaments. The museum possesses a sizeable collection of Dresden porcelain and comes next to Sevres collection. An outstanding example of the Dresden porcelain collection is the figure of a tailor and his wife riding a goat. The English porcelain collection is of varied types produced mostly during the 19th century. The outstanding pieces are cups, saucers, plates, vases, hotwater plates, figurines etc. The collection includes specimens from the factories like Worcester, Chelsea, Derby, Coalport, Spade, Manchester, Minton, Wedgwood, etc. The Wedgwood pottery collection is a notable one in the gallery. It acquaints the visitor with its sophistication and was produced during the last quarter of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th century in England.
Glass is one of the most remarkable substances known to man from the early centuries. The art objects housed in the museum are a living testimony to the artistic attainment in this medium and acquaint the visitor with the degree of technical excellence attained by the glass makers of different countries. The museum houses a number of exquisite glass specimens drawn from Venice, France, England, America, Bohemia, Belgium, Istanbul and Czechoslovakia. The glass object from Venice occupies an important place in the collection. The Bohemian glass decanters and bowls were cut and enamelled to represent acanthus, floral and scroll designs in baroque style.
The European Bronze images housed in the museum consist of originals as well as copies of some of the well known sculptors which give a fair idea of the popularity. This medium was enjoyed in the West. Among the Greek subjects, a copy showing, Laocoon and His Sons stands out for its execution. This subject has influenced the Greek sculptors since ages and the earliest of them dated back to 50 B.C. Apart from these, there are many other figures like the Statue of Liberty, Alexander on horseback, Augustus Caesar, Night Watchman etc., which remind of many historical events with which these personalities were associated.
European Marble Statue
The marble sculptures in the museum are sizeable in number though majority of them are garden figures being copies of Greek mythological sculptures done by famous artists. Of the original figures, mention may be made of a charming sculpture Veiled Rebecca, acquired by Salar Jung I. Rebecca is a character from the ‘Old Testament’. The world renowned sculptor, G.B. Benzoni has brought out the bridal bashfulness and youth of Rebecca with his unerring chisel. Among the others, Cleopatra by Prof. Borione, Bebe by a French sculptor capturing the innocence of a baby, ‘Psyche’ wife of Cupid who is celebrated for her beauty, are some good examples on view. Two copies of the well known French sculptor, Canora (1757-1822) consisting of Princess Pauline cast as Venus and another figure of Venus are also nice marbles. The marble statues from Italy, France and England form sizeable collection of the museum.
The European furniture forms yet another fascinating group in the collection of European art objects. By and large the pieces originate from France and England. A wide variety of French furniture comprising of cabinets, consoles, chairs, sofa sets, commodes, elegant screens, table etc. belonging to the period of Louis XIV (1643 -1715), Louis XV (1715-44); Louis XVI (1774-92) and Napoleon I adorns the gallery. A set of Sheraton chairs have been identified in the Salar Jung Museum collections. The arm chairs moving on meter castors were upholstered in tapestry showing designs of leaves and flowers. The top rails, were decorated with ivory and wood inlay in panels.
The Salar Jung Museum possesses a good number of clocks collected from different European countries such as France, England, Switzerland, Germany, Holland etc. The variety includes the Bird cage clocks, Bracket clocks, Grandfather clocks, Skeleton clocks, etc. The museum is also having some good examples of the clocks of the contemporary period of Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Napoleon 1st of France. The most important clock which attracts the greatest number of visitors everyday is however, a British Bracket clock. It has got a mechanical device by which a miniature toy figure comes out of an enclosure and strikes the gong and then returns back to the enclosure at each hour.
Apart from the galleries, there is a reference Library, reading room, publication and education section, chemical conservation lab, sales counter, cafeteria etcGuides are available at fixed timings free of charge
Seminars and workshops are being organized on special occasions such as – Birthday celebrations of Salar Jung III, Museum Week, Childrens Week etc., as part of its educational activities.
During the Museum Week (8th –14th January) the visitors are allowed on 50% concession on entrance fee. Rangoli Competition for women of different age groups are being conducted every year to maintain the traditional culture.
During the Children’s Week (from14th to 20th November) students and children are allowed free entry to the Museum. Competitions are also conducted on different aspects amongst the school-children of different age groups- such as elocution, essay writing, drawing etc. in English, Hindi, Telugu and Urdu languages.
The Salar Jung Museum is also possessing a huge library consisting of nearly sixty thousand books, manuscripts, journals etc., and it is a monument to the love of learning of the Salar Jung family.