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Decadence and Decay: Fashioning the Image of Lady Mary Curzon, Vicereine of India

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Decadence and Decay: Fashioning the Image of Lady Mary Curzon, Vicereine of India


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Saturday, November 11
10:00 a.m. PT
Speaker: Siddhartha V. Shah, Ph.D., John Wieland 1958 Director of the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College
Virtual Event


A headless mannequin placed within a glass box wears a legendary ball gown commissioned in 1902 by the Vicereine of India, Mary Curzon. The dress—commissioned for a state ball in Delhi—was as symbolic as it was magnificent, featuring peacock feathers embroidered in gold, silver, and copper threads. Worn on the statuesque body of the Vicereine, the gown transformed her into “a vision of embodied light” that revealed the opulence of the British Raj rather than the ways in which it was falling apart at the seams. Its display also attempts to highlight the glamour and glory of Empire, though it, too, is clearly in a state of dramatic and irreversible deterioration. This presentation examines how imperial authority and the subjugation of the Indian Subcontinent were staged on the body of Lady Curzon through dress and ornament, veiling the steady decline of British rule as well as Curzon’s own failing health. We consider how dress can simultaneously reveal an individual’s authentic self while also laying bare their deepest insecurities, and explore the tensions between the natural process of decay and our often unnatural efforts to prevent it.


Please reserve your spot by clicking on this link. All participants will be sent the Zoom link and instructions via email once you secure your place.

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Sponsored by the South Asian Arts Council.


Featured at top right: Workshop of Kishan Chand (India) and tailored by Jean-Philippe Worth (France), The Peacock Dress, 1900-1902. Gold and silver Zardozi embroidery with beetle wings on silk taffeta, muslin, lace, and rhinestones; William Logsdail, Mary Victoria Leiter, Lady Curzon, 1909. Oil on canvas. Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire.

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November 11, 2023
10:00 am - 12:00 pm
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