Details, Delight, and Documentation
In addition to documenting a seminal era in Islamic art scholarship, the slide collection also serves as a critical visual record. These examples serve as a reminder that there is a physical value to the collection, in addition to its function as a window into Welch’s scholarship and historiographical importance.
Welch worked at a time when museum publications were sparsely illustrated, and tools such as online catalogues were nonexistent. While he was photographing artworks out of necessity, Welch also captured important information about preservation and detail. For example, his images of the 18th century Pahari painting Dancing Villagers serve as a record of the material history of these objects. His detail views emphasize the burnished surface of the painting, as well as areas of damage in the lower left corner (see "Detail of a crouching dancer"). Welch probably took these photographs in order to focus on the exaggerated postures and facial expressions of the dancing figures (see the section on connoisseurship for more details about how Welch worked). However, these images also reveal generations of damage, repair or alterations. The painting, now at LACMA (M.77.19.24) has since been restored, with many areas of damage stabilized or repaired. Archival images of these objects can serve as a valuable resource for researchers interested in material history or conservation.
The meticulous level of detail in Welch’s photographs is another strength of the collection. The c. 1615 Mughal painting Squirrels in a Plane Tree is part of the British Library’s Johnson collection, and has been published in multiple books and articles as a landmark of Mughal natural history painting. In Welch’s photographs, we see his fascination with the painting’s many details. No two squirrels are exactly alike, and their playful expressions among the vividly patterned leaves creates a dynamic yet balanced composition. But in addition to being an insight into Welch’s work, his slides reveal a level of detail not visible in most published images. Views such as the one on this page record details about technique and style not visible to the naked eye, such as the quantity of delicate brushstrokes used to build the impression of plush, rippling fur.
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