A peek inside Indian royalty and their iconic thrones
Across cultures, the seats of royalty were made of the most precious materials possible. Foremost of these were gold and silver, whose colour and reflective properties likened them respectively to the sun and moon, endowing the thrones with notions of purity and sanctity. The malleable qualities of these precious metals rendered them ideal as a surface for furniture, capable of a high degree of finishing—whether with engraved designs and inscriptions or as a setting for further ornamentation, such as the inlay of gems and enamelling.
Renowned examples of royal furniture covered with gold and silver associated with Indian rulers include the legendary Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan—removed during the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739—which was covered with sheets of gold and inset with precious stones from the Mughal Treasury, including the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s golden throne—now in the Victoria and Albert Museum—is inspired by the form and ornamentation of the lotus, referring to the lotus seats on which Buddhist and Hindu divinities are traditionally depicted in painting and sculpture. The gold throne of Tipu Sultan—dismantled after his defeat at the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799— consisted of an octagonal platform with a tiger head and legs, surmounted by gem-set tiger-head finials above which was a royal umbrella and a huma bird of gold, itself inset with precious stones.
The throne chair shown here—from the royal house of Mysore—hails from a period when Indian rulers largely adopted the Western way of sitting for ceremonial events, with their legs hanging over the seat. The design itself conforms with 19th-century throne chairs from Europe, evident foremost by the coat of arms and motto on the crest rail, granted to the Wadiyar dynasty by the British Crown at the Delhi Durbar of 1877. The arm supports and feet reflect the notion—evident since ancient times—that imagery evoking the power and dignity of the lion, recognized as king of the beasts, reinforced the authority of a ruler over his people.
Silver furniture was highly prized at European courts, too, enjoying a particular vogue in the later 17th century, led by the example of Louis XIV of France. In the 1660s, the Gobelins manufactory, under the direction of Charles Le Brun, produced suites of solid-silver furniture for the king, all decorated with the monogram of the king and his sun emblem. These were melted down to help finance the ruinously expensive War of the Spanish Succession, but set a stylistic precedent that was copied all over Europe and Asia.