It was in 2011 that the Dresden museum, Kupferstich-Kabinett (Cabinet of Prints, Drawings and Photographs) decided to bring out, from among its holdings, two long neglected collections of Indian miniatures. The occasion was a visit by Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, who had gone to the museum, housed in Dresden Castle, to give a presentation on the CSMVS. “We were thinking of which holdings to show him,” says Petra Kuhlmann-Hodick, senior curator at the Kupferstich-Kabinett, “We recalled having seen a group of partly damaged Indian paintings, as well as a number of very beautiful albums with Indian miniatures when moving the whole collection to the castle in 2003-04,” she adds.
While the collections contained some rare and valuable works, what was immediately apparent was the need to conserve them. Kuhlmann-Hudick says, “Mr Mukherjee was very positive about the collection and then along with Anupam (Sah, head of art conservation at CSMVS) we started to think about their conservation and a conjoint project.” The result was a collaboration between the State Museums of Dresden (SKD) and CSMVS, which lent the expertise of its conservation centre to help conserve select miniatures. The project began in 2015 and has culminated in an exhibition called “Stories in Miniature”, as part of a project called “Dresden. Europe. World”, which is currently on display in the German city. The CSMVS also lent nine miniature paintings and one textile — all conserved by the centre — for the three-month-long exhibition, which is likely to travel in Mumbai next year.
The Dresden miniatures, most of them from the 17th and 18th century, and executed in a variety of styles, had come into the museum’s collection in two main groups. The first group is traceable to an inventory made in 1738 and comprises about 360 Indian miniatures, most of which are portraits of Indian noblemen. The second group came from the collection of renowned 18th century indologist, August Wilhelm Schlegal and had been donated to the museum by his niece, Auguste von Buttlar, in 1848. Neither of the collections had been published until they were rescued from obscurity six years ago. Since it was established in 2008, the CSMVS Museum Art Conservation Centre has been busy conserving the works existing in the museum’s own collections as well as providing training to the staff of other institutions. The collaboration with SKD was, however, the first time that the CSMVS team went abroad to implement a conservation project. “It is a recognition of the competence level of the art conservation centre, and of the credibility of the CSMVS,” says Sah.