The AGO's Maharaja Online

Official teachers' resource for the Art Gallery of Ontario's Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts exhibition, which is up until April 3, 2011. Learn about some of the artifacts in the exhibition, and engage in a dialogue relating ancient artworks to contemporary life.

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A Powerful Woman

Chand Bibi of Bijapur shooting with her ladies. c. 1750 opaque watercolour on paper. Victoria & Albert Museum, London © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Chand Bibi was a rare case for women in the ruling classes at her time, and even rarer in the general population of India in the 16th century.
  • Hunting or playing sports, learning to play musical instruments, going shopping or even taking a walk on your own, going to school, even reading, were not considered appropriate pursuits for girls and women.
  • Imagine what it would be like to not have any power over what you do, what you wear, or even who or when you marry. What makes a woman powerful?

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How is this artwork relevant today?

Turban Ornament: the Bling of Maharajas

Sarpech (turban ornament). Probably Murshidabad, mid-18th century. Gold, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, a sapphire and a pearl. Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Sarpeches or turban ornaments were the ‘bling’ of their time. What is the bling of our time? How do you feel about these symbols of wealth and power?

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How is this artifact relevant in today’s world?

Work Animals

YouTube video: “Sri Lanka, Water Buffalo ploughing a rice field, rice paddy”

Work Animals

YouTube video: “Milking Dairy Cows - Free-Stall Barn”

Elephant Ankus

Ankus. Jaipur, c. 1870 Gold, natural colourless sapphires, enamel. Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Elephants were used in hunts and processions of the Indian royal court similar to how horses were used by European royalty.
  • How do you feel about humans using animals for work?

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How does this artwork relate to today’s world?

“I never liked photography. Not for the sake of photography. I like the object. I like the photographs when you hold them in your hand.”

— Robert Mapplethorpe

Portraits of Maharajas: Recording Experience

Portrait of Maharana Amar Singh. c. 1700 opaque watercolour on cloth Victoria & Albert Museum, London © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Portrait of the Nawab of Arcot. c. 1775 oil painting Victoria & Albert Museum, London © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Maharajas commissioned artists to paint their portraits as a record of their reign. How do we record our lived experiences today?

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How do these artworks play a role in today’s world?

Guerilla Art

People Watching Plus from Rune Madsen via Wooster Collective.

A common phrase in any metropolis is the term “people watching.” This game takes the restful past-time and adds an interactive element. Made by Rune Madsen, Scott Wayne Indiana, Nien Lam and Nikolas Psaroudakis.