The Field Museum Presents Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts Stunning Exhibition Opens Fall 2012

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The Field Museum Presents

Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts

Stunning Exhibition Opens Fall 2012
Discover the dazzling world of India’s legendary rulers in The Field Museum’s latest exhibition, Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts, from October 17 through February 3, 2013. The exhibition, organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, presents over 200 rare artifacts including elaborate jewelry, ornate weaponry, royal costumes, and stunning artworks.

From the pomp and circumstance of a royal procession to the inner sanctum of a courtly palace, Maharaja explores the world of India’s rulers from the 1700s to the 1940s taking visitors through an era of great political change. The Field Museum is the final venue on this exhibition’s world tour.

Key artworks in Maharaja include exquisitely detailed paintings of royal processions, regalia worn by kings and queens, ceremonial daggers, swords and matchlock guns, hand-crafted instruments and boardgames, and prized photographs by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton. One extraordinary highlight is the Patiala necklace by Cartier which originally contained 2,930 diamonds (including the yellow 234.69-carat DeBeers diamond).

Lead sponsors, BMO Harris Bank, Exelon.

The word maharaja¸ or “great king” recalls a turbaned and bejeweled ruler with absolute authority and immense wealth. But this image fails to do justice to the maharaja’s complex role in the cultural and political history of India. The exhibition

re-examines the world of the maharajas and their extraordinarily rich culture. The exhibition will introduce visitors to the concept of royal duty in India. From military strength to administrative and diplomatic skills, maharajas were expected to adhere to a strict code of behaviors. Besides being wise and benevolent, the king was expected to be an excellent warrior and accomplished hunter. Visitors will discover swords and rifles encrusted with gemstones, as well as heavily decorated armor.

Through their participation in elaborate public spectacles, maharajas signified their public authority and roles. Throughout the exhibition visitors will encounter dazzling ceremonial regalia—for example, a silver howdah, which the maharaja used atop a giant elephant during grand processions. Also included in this display is historic footage of “dressing” the royal elephant, and an ankus (an instrument to control the elephant) made of gold and bejeweled with colorless sapphires.

Rare paintings in watercolors and gold chronicle royal rule and daily life: from the nearly 24-foot-long painting of a procession of the ruler of Mysore to an intimate scene of a concert in a palace courtyard.

Stunning clothing and jewelry illustrate how maharajas used opulence as a symbol of authority. One turban ornament from the mid-18th century, is made of gold, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, a pearl, and an enormous sapphire. Such ornaments were originally worn only by the ruler but by the 1700s, they were given as symbols of royal favor to select noblemen.

Visitors will explore palace life, including entertainment and leisure. A beautiful peacock-shaped stringed instrument uses real peacock feathers to complete the design and a gamebox made from rosewood, ivory, and brass helped pass the time.

The exhibition traces the decline of the Mughal Empire in the early 18th century, to the rise of smaller kingdoms, through the rise of the English East India Company and British colonization in 1858. Ending with India’s independence movement and the collapse of British rule in 1947, Maharaja provides a better and nuanced understanding of the rich cultural traditions and complex political dimensions underlying India today. (See more in Historical Context document.)
Field Museum Admission

Tickets to Maharaja are included in both Discovery and All-Access passes to the Museum and are priced at $22-$29 for adults, $18-24 for seniors and students with ID, and $15-$20 for children 4-11. Discounts are available for Chicago residents. Tickets can be purchased at Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 15 or more. Call our Group Sales office at 888.FIELD.85 for details.


The Field Museum is open 9am to 5pm every day of the year except Christmas Day.

Location and Travel Information

The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. Visitors can travel to the Museum via CTA bus lines #6 and #146, or by taking the Metra electric and South Shore Lines. Parking is available next to the Museum’s east entrance, or inside the Soldier Field underground lot, located across the street from the Museum’s main entrance.

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