Ariel Guterman- Carved Jade Terrapin (17th Century AD)

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When I first approached the piece, I thought it was a large jade turtle. It’s beautifully carved, with attention to detail and a smooth shiny finish.  I knew it was probably expensive and an extravagant decoration (from its sheer size alone). I also knew that if they sold miniature replicas in the gift shop, I would have purchased one.   According to the British Library, this object was an ornament to the imperial swimming pool.  But there is more to the story of the Jade Terrapin.  First of all, “terrapin” is not a synonym or translation for “turtle” but rather a very specific type of turtle.  Why did emperor Akbar choose this particular turtle?  Why was jade the medium from which the terrapin was carved?  Both the animal and the stone are representative of the emperor’s interest in nature (as this turtle is native to the Ganges River) and realism (jade closely mimics the color of the live animal). The natural world is captured in many pieces of Mughal art.  In the majority of the art I saw in this exhibit, realism is favored over abstraction.  The exhibit really captured the spirit of the Mughal’s interest in nature (flora and fauna, geography, and on some maps, even topography).  So it’s not just a turtle, but a communication of the awareness and fascination the Mughals had for the natural world.

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One thought on “Ariel Guterman- Carved Jade Terrapin (17th Century AD)

  1. Ariel, I also chose to write about the Jade terrapin for this assignment. I completely agree with you that this sculpture had an amazing attention to detail. I really liked your suggestion that the turtle is not simply that, but rather the illumination of the interest Mughals had for nature and art.

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