The Anointing of Queen Alexandra at the Coronation of Edward VII, by Laurits Tuxen from the Royal Collection. She was the first Queen Consort to be coronated wearing the Koh-i-noor diamond. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
A rather inspired solution has been found to the controversy surrounding the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which was renewed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the possibility that the famous gemstone would be used during the coronation or King Charles III and his Queen Consort, Camilla. The diamond, which has long been part of the British Crown Jewels, has been the subject of a long legal battle initiated by the Indians, which are demanding its return.
According to media sources, the Koh-i-Noor will be part of a new exhibition at the Tower of London recognizes it as “a symbol of conquest.” The exhibition will open on May 26, 20 days after the coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey.
CNN reports that display will explore the origins and history of the crown jewels, and will explain how the 105.6-carat diamond’s came to be included in the British royal family’s state collection.
(The exhibit) references its long history as a symbol of conquest, which has passed through many hands,” Sophie Lemagnen, media manager for the Tower of London, told CNN.
Interestingly, while acknowledging that the Koh-i-Noor is a symbol of conquest, the exhibition seems to stress that the Britain is only the latest in a long line of conqueror, and no apology os provided no and even tacit agreement that an injustice was committed.
In its press release announcing the exhibition, the Historic Royal Palaces stated “The history of the Koh-i-Noor, which is set within the Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, will be explored. A combination of objects and visual projections will explain the stone’s story as a symbol of conquest, with many previous owners, including Mughal Emperors, Shahs of Iran, Emirs of Afghanistan, and Sikh Maharajas.”
Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, which ruled the northwest Indian subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century, as envisioned by contemporary artist Manu Kaur Saluja. He is wearing the Koh-i-Noor diamond on his right arm in its original setting. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
SYMBOLS OF THE BRITISH MONARCHY
The Crown Jewels are part of the Royal Collection, which is among the largest and most important art collections in the world, and one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact. It comprises almost all aspects of the fine and decorative arts, and is spread among some 15 royal residences and former residences across the United Kingdom, most of which are regularly open to the public.
The Royal Collection is held in trust by British sovereign for their successors and the nation, and is not owned by the King as a private individual. The Royal Collection Trust, a department of the royal household, is responsible for the care of the Royal Collection and manages the public opening of the official residences of the king.
“The Crown Jewels are the most powerful symbols of the British monarchy and hold deep religious, historic, and cultural significance,” explained Charles Farris, public historian for the history of the monarchy at Historic Royal Palaces.”
“From their fascinating origins to their use during the coronation ceremony, the new Jewel House transformation will present the rich history of this magnificent collection with more depth and detail than ever before. With 2023 bringing the first [British] coronation in 70 years, there has never been a better time for people to come and learn about the jewels and to appreciate these awe-inspiring objects in person,” Farris added.
The Koh-i-Noor is not the only diamonds that will be on display related to conquest. Also to be featured are stones cut from the Cullinan diamond, which was discovered in South Africa in 1905, when it too was part of the British Empire. At 3,106 carats it was the largest gem-quality uncut diamond ever found, and was split into nine major stones and 96 smaller brilliants, with the largest two stones featuring in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Imperial State Crown.
Several of the Cullinan stones will feature in the coronation ceremony on May 6, unlike the Koh-i-Noor, which Camilla decided not to include her coronation crown, which is being adapted from the Queen Mother’s state crown from 1937, which did include the Indian gem.
FRANCE AND GERMANY DO HAVE RETURN POLICY
The Koh-i-Noor is not the only item of colonial booty that the British have been reluctant to return. Possibly the most famous object is the Elgin marbles, which have been held by the British sine the early 1800s, and displayed in the British Museum.
Originally made for the Parthenon temple in Athens, they date back to 447 BCE and are dedicated to the goddess Athena. They were taken by Lord Elgin, a Scottish nobleman, first to Malta, a British protectorate at the time, and then to England. Elgin intended to use them Marbles to decorate his family house, but due to a costly divorce, he sold them to the British government instead.
In 2021, a UNESCO intergovernmental commission voted unanimously voted to recommend the return of the Elgin Marbles to the country from which they originated, following a request from Greece, first put before the body in 1984. However, in an interview with a Greek newspaper, the British prime minister at the time, Boris Johnson, said that the United Kingdom has no intention of ever returning the sculptures.
The British position in contrast to that of France, whose national assembly voted to return to Senegal and Nigeria colonial-era artifacts taken by troop during colonial occupations. Similarly, Germany has also decided to give back hundreds of artifacts looted during the colonial era to Nigeria.
Queen Victoria wearing the Koh-i-Noor as a brooch, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
In 2021, Germany has returned 22 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. They were looted from the ancient Kingdom of Benin — now southern Nigeria, not the modern nation of Benin— by British soldiers in 1897.