As an attempt to combat wedding stress, I’ve recently been rereading some of my favourite Tintin stories.*
One of my all time top Tintin episodes is The Castafiore Emerald for several reasons, the most relevant being that it features magpies as ‘main characters’.
*Spoiler alert* The story takes place at Marlinspike Hall, home of Captain Haddock, the friend and adventuring partner of Tintin, boy reporter. Forceful Italian soprano Bianca Castafiore comes to stay in preparation for her performance in the opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie), and is promptly divested of her most prized possession: an enormous emerald. Suspicion falls on a number of people (including a Romani group, shocker), but eventually the culprit is revealed as (you guessed it) a thieving magpie…
There’s an amusing moment part-way through the tale where an insurance man, Mr. Wagg, explains that Castafiore was given this emerald by ‘Marjorie something or other’, and is quickly corrected; the emerald was a gift from the Maharajah of Gopal. (Interesting side-note, this is a bit of translator humour; the original plays on confusion between a word for ‘thingummybob’ – ‘marachinchouette’ – and ‘maharajah’. The guy is also called M. Lampion, which means ‘paper lamp’ – no idea on that one.) This made me wonder whether Hergé’s emerald was based on a real, giant, Indian gem.
A quick google suggests Hergé never specified any one stone as his inspiration, but India has long been a centre for the trade of emeralds, much beloved for their green colour (which is of course an extremely significant shade in Islam). The Muslim Mughal Empire, in which Maharajahs abounded, unsurprisingly had a particular fondness for emerald items. Some of the stunning Mughal jewellery I found during my search includes these beauties:
I also found one of the most famous Mughal emeralds, pleasingly called The Mogul Mughal Emerald (go on now, five times fast…). Whilst not an exact match for the fictional Castafiore Emerald, this rectangular-cut stone is a strong contender. Although the Mughal Empire fell in 1857, there were still plenty of Maharajahs knocking about by the time Tintin is set, so it’s feasible Castafiore’s Maharajah of Gopal could have been passing on an heirloom…
5 facts about the Mogul Mughal Emerald
1) The Mogul Mughal Emerald weighs in at a whopping 217.80 carats, measuring 5.2 x 4 x 1.2cm. For context, this chunky emerald ring is only 3.01 carats.
2) Similar in shape to the Castafiore Emerald, the MME is not faceted, and is just a touch more intricately decorated. One side is carved with Shi’a inscriptions, the other with a contemporary flower motif. The flowers have been identified as the poppies which fill the region around what is now Pakistan, and which was part of the Mughal Empire. The inscription is a prayer to Muhammed and the 12 Imams, and reads:
O Merciful One, O Compassionate One
God bless Muhammad and ‘Ali
and Fatima and al-Husain
and al-Hasan and ‘Ali
and Muhammad and Ja’far
and ‘Ali and Muhammad
and al-Husaini and the steadfast Mahdi
3) As you can see above, unusually for a historical artefact, the MME is self-dating. The inscription tells us it was carved in 1107 A.H. on the Islamic lunar calendar (1695-1696 CE in the Gregorian calendar), during the reign of Aurangzeb, the 6th Mughal Emperor. It’s the only surviving carved emerald from the classic Mughal period…as far as we know. Because of its near-unique accuracy in dating, it’s the yardstick by which all other carved Mughal emeralds are dated.
4) Interestingly, despite being carved in the heart of the Mughal Empire for what must have been an exceptionally wealthy owner, it’s not believed that this emerald was a gift for the zealously Sunni ruling family. Rather, historians suggest that the talisman was instead embellished for an officer or a Deccani or Persian nobleman.
5) It’s had quite the cosmopolitan life: from its mine in Colombia it travelled to India to be carved. After stints on display at a range of museums across North America, in December 2008 it was acquired by the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, where it currently resides.
*Obviously I know Tintin is problematic on a ton of levels, but I still love it.