Preview: Gold, Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood Palace

Tiger's head from the throne of Tipu Sultan, 1785-93, which will be shown at the exhibition. Picture: Complimentary
Tiger's head from the throne of Tipu Sultan, 1785-93, which will be shown at the exhibition. Picture: Complimentary
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INTRICATE and gleaming, it is surely the ultimate in bling.

With his rock crystal fangs and sparkling eyes, an articulated tongue poking from his gaping jaws, and stunning detail, the life-size tiger’s head is dazzling proof that sometimes all that glistens really is gold.

More than 60 items have been carefully chosen from the Royal Collection to form Gold, a major exhibition of glittering treasures which opens at the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse next week.

They date from a gold cup from the Early Bronze Age – proof that our ancestors were as partial to a bit of bling as we are today – up to 20th century art.

But, undoubtedly, the biggest attraction for many visitors will be the stunning tiger’s head, recovered from the throne of fearsome warrior Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in India.

“It is the level of detail that you can see in the face that makes him so special,” says Lauren Porter, one of the exhibition’s curators.

“The way the gold has been chiselled is amazing, while his articulated tongue, his rock crystal incisors and the fact that he is life size make him really special.”

The tiger, beautifully decorated with a riot of detail, was just one part of a breathtaking throne built for the Sultan’s outrageously lavish Mysore palace. But the object’s beauty may, for some, be slightly tainted – Tipu died defending Mysore in 1799 from British attack, his glittering throne featuring not just one but several stunning golden tigers was broken up and handed over as spoils of war.

While he takes pride of place there are dozens of other glittering exhibits which testify to gold’s standing as a symbol of royal wealth, power and status, many on show in Scotland for the first time.

The Bronze Age Rillaton Cup, made between 1700-1500BC, beaten from a single lump of gold of high purity, was found in 1837 by workmen at Bodmin Moor, Cornwall.

“It’s beautiful and very precious,” Lauren adds. “It is one of just a handful of gold items from the Bronze Age.”

Alongside will be pages from the finest Islamic manuscript in the Royal Collection, The Padshahama. Written on paper flecked with gold, the manuscripts chronicles the first ten years of the reign of Shah-Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor and builder of the Taj Mahal.

Alongside golden treasures from across the globe are others with closer links to the British monarchy.

“The exhibition shows that this metal has always been coveted and preserved and looked after by people throughout history,” adds Lauren.

“It is, of course, beautiful.”

Gold shows at the Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, from March 27 to July 26.