Painting, 'Muhammad Ali Khan, the Nawab of Arcot' by Tilly Kettle (1735-1786), oil on canvas, undated but probably c.1769-71; 109.2 x 88.9 cm
Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah (1717-1795) was the Nawab, or sovereign ruler, of Arcot in southern India. Here he is dressed in a glorious array of jewels to confer power and status. The colours of the gemstones are now faded, although traces of red and green may still be seen. The Nawab's adornments are a mixture of pearls and almost certainly rubies and emeralds, which were the most prestigious gemstones at the time and most often seen in royal Mughal jewellery, along with white jade, rock crystal and diamonds.
Tilly Kettle was the first significant British portrait painter working in India. Originally this painting was much larger and included the Nawab's five sons. It was cut in the middle of the 19th century and the whereabouts of the children's portraits is now unknown.