The Prince, the Jeweller and the Mogul: the Historical Meaning of the Most Extraordinary Early-Modern Work of Decorative Art
I am writing a book-length interpretation of one of the most fantastical works of decorative art in early modern Europe, The Throne of the Great Mogul, created at the beginning of the 18th century by the top Baroque jeweller, Johann Melchior Dinglinger, for his Saxon prince. Set on a tabletop-size, stage-like scenery are 160 moveable miniature pieces human figures, animals and inanimate objects: exquisite pieces of jewellery-work made with some 5,000 gemstones and endless enamel work. Each piece individualized with amazing care, together they represent the court of the Indian Mughal emperor Aurangzeb during his birthday celebrations. The overall effect is overwhelming.
And so is the puzzlement of the historian. In both form and content, the Throne of the Great Mogul seems to come straight out of a magical and beautiful fairy tale. And yet the narrative requirements of fairy tales are not the same as those of history. As historical actions by actual agents in a real historical situation, this story appears to make no sense. Why did the jeweller spend eight years of his free time to create this model? Why did the prince, broke after a humiliating military defeat, pay a small fortune to buy it? Why this particular theme of the Thron des Großmoguls a representation of a living foreign potentate on the other side of the globe? And why represent this theme in such an impossibly intricate, unprecedented form, with many unique and often mysterious features? In short, how can we make sense of this work of art, of this transaction, of this tremendous artistic investment and effort? What does this object mean?
My effort to answer these questions proceeds in a kind of floral pattern, in the manner that a child draws a flower. At the centre stands the Thron des Großmoguls. Each book chapter begins at the centre and traces, in petal after petal, a movement away from the model and then back again. Each detour carefully unpacks one element of this complex object, keeping in mind the peculiarities of form and content, and takes the analysis into a different aspect of European and global history and art at the beginning of the 18th century.
Wahrman, Dror. Invisible Hands: Self Organization and the Eighteenth Century. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2015 (with Jonathan Sheehan).
-. Mr. Collier's Letter Racks: A Tale of Art and Illusion at the Threshold of the Modern Information Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
-. The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in the Eighteenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
Publications from the Fellows' Library
Wahrman, Dror (
Chicago, Ill. [u.a.],
Invisible hands : self-organization and the eighteenth century
Wahrman, Dror (
Change and the corporeal in seventeenth‐ and eighteenth‐century gender history : or, can cultural history be rigorous?