The Collector

This is not my usual style of headlining. No puns, word plays, or hidden innuendos. It’s mainly because I have been trying to catch-up on my Nora Roberts collection and while organising my Kindle, I happened across her book with the same name. And, that sparked the flint of a memory of my brief stay in Hyderabad, and literally one of the three things that I really liked about that place.

Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, Telangana

August 2017

Boasting for being the largest collection of artefacts by a single person (Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan SalarJung III – the former prime minster of 7th Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan), Salar Jung Museum houses more than 43000 artefacts, 9000 manuscripts and 500000 books displayed across 38 galleries spread over 3 buildings (central, eastern and western blocks) of this 2-storey museum complex. And yet, the total exhibited art objects barely crosses over 25% of the entire collection. The collections range from 2nd century B.C to early 20th century A.D ,of different cultures such as Greek, Roman, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Islamic of various countries and of various materials.

Some of the most famous collectibles are:

Largest collection of vintage clock including the English Bracket Clock, also famously known as the Musical Clock. The mechanism of the clock contains a small toy figure of a bearded man that comes out 3 min early to every hour, and strikes the corresponding hour(s) on the gong to end of every 60th minute and then goes back (e.g. 5 times at 5 o’clock).

Veiled Rebecca, an enchanting and modest biblical character, holds the centerpiece of the whole museum and are available only in four other museums all over the world.

Copies of The Veiled Rebecca that can be found:

High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Listed in the catalog as The Veiled Rebekah and dated 1864.

Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Dated c. 1866.

Detroit Institute of ArtsDetroit, Michigan. This smaller version (113 cm tall) is listed in the catalog as The Veiled Lady and dated 1872.

Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India. Dated 1876 (three years after Benzoni’s death).

Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, Mount Vernon, Illinois.


It has been described as 167 cm tall melody in marble, and is a tribute to the Italian genius master G.B. Benzoni. The distinguishing feature of Rebecca in Salar Jung is that she appears to lift her veil with her right hand whereas the other statues of Rebecca do so with the left hand.

Based on the biblical character of Rebekah, the daughter of Bethual from the Old Testamanet (24th chapter), who has been described as paragon of virtue with various attributes such Beautiful (24.16), Industrious (24.19), Hospitable (24.25), a Decision-maker (24.57, 58), and Modest (24.65). At the time of her bethrotal with Issac, she tried to hide her excitement by drawing a veil over her face, while at the same time expressing her williness to marry. Benzoni detailed out each layer of her clothes with special individual textures, under which the contours of her body are subtly portrayed. The sculpture, made out of a single piece of cold white marble, has been masterfully carved to represent the softness of cloth, the transparency of the veil and the warm firm youthful body of the bride.

The sculpture is placed on a round pedestal with an inscription identifying the artist, place and year. Interestingly, the overall placement of the statue creates an interesting 3D effect. Salar Jung I acquired this masterpeice directly from the artist during his visit to Italy in 1876. Interesting trivia: Veiled women were a popular sculptural motif among Benzoni and his peers in 19th-century Italy for a number of reasons. The first was that these works highlighted the artistry of the sculptor since creating the illusion that stone as a fabric clinging to a body requires a high level of skill. Secondly, a veiled woman had become an allegory for Italian unification

Double Statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta is another infamous feature of the museum, and the most commonly photographed one. It is also famous for making its presence in the Kamal Hassan movie, ‘Vishwaroopam’. The life-size sculpture, carved out of a single log of sycamore wood depicts the haughty, evil Mephistopheles back to back with the gentle, meek looking, Margaretta. Mephistopheles is clad in a hooded cloak, heeled boots and has a long face with a cynical smile; while Margaretta on the has a prayer book in one hand, adopting a demure pose. The sculpture is a representation of two characters, from the famous German drama “Faust” (by Goethe).

Here’s a quote from “Faust” that describes the blend of the Good & Evil which has been captured in the sculpture perfectly :

… who are you, then?
I am part of that power
which eternally wills evil
and eternally works good.


Interestingly, while the subjects are based on German characters, the sculpture is actually a French design. The choice of a German subject for the French statue can be mainly attributed to the surge of interest seen for all things German during the period after 1870 across France and in other countries. Strangely, the sculptor of this superb neo–classical carving embodying warm and life-like figures has still not been identified.

Stolen Interview is a masterpiece from the popular painter of the royal families – Raja Ravi Verma. He is considered as the critical link between the Thanjavur school of traditional arts and western academic realism. This painting is typical of his style depicting a classic Indian beauty in a traditional sari and jewellery, in a romantic mood, demurely playing with a flower while listening to her lover.

Ravi Verma’s Stolen Interview

The Arabic and Persian Manuscripts division of the Museum has in its collection the earliest and most treasured Holy Quran, written on parchment in the Naskh script, in Arabic on a rich dark indigo background.

Well 43000 artifacts does mean that there are quite more famous ones that I have not listed out here. But these are the ones that are definite highlights that will make your trip to Salar Jung memorable!

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