History of the World in Objects and Art

20 000BC      
1200BC 800 1455 1820
700BC 1070 1500 1840
350BC 1205 1530 1868
200BC 1260 1600 1890
100BC 1290 1685 1910
30 1350 1755 1920
600 1400 1800 1950
History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline

The Mughal Empire was founded by Babur, a descendant of the Turkic and Mongol conquerors Tamerlaine and Genghis Khan. The empire lasted for more than 300 years, spreading Islam through India while also fostering a climate of religious tolerance. The Mughals were famed for their riches and celebrated for their cultural output, including visual art, poetry, and architecture.
The Mughal Empire ruled over most of India for more than 300 years, reaching the peak of its powers in the 16th to the mid-18th centuries. In addition to controlling almost all of northern and central India, it also extended into modern-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of Iran, with its population reaching 100-150 million by the late 1600s.

The empire was founded by a prince named Babur (Zahir al-Din Muhammas Babur), who was a descendant of two great conquerors: Tamerlaine (also Timur) and Genghis Khan. Babur was born within Central Asia, but he extended his territory beyond its borders, seizing Kabul (in present-day Afghanistan) in 1504. He spent the following years making raids on India. In 1526, he captured the Delhi sultanate, and northern India fell under his rule.


The Mughal Empire grew by consolidating smaller kingdoms. This was often a violent process, because not all kingdoms were willing to acquiesce to Babur or his descendants. At the same time, various internal rebellions and
family rivalries broke out in the empire, making the Mughal period a time of constant warfare.

The Mughals were Muslims, and they spread Islam in India. Islam had existed in the country since the 8th century on a very small scale, but it grew under the influence of the Mughals. There was a great degree of religious tolerance initially. However, this changed under the reign of Aurangzeb in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some believed that his strict interpretation of Islam and subsequent policies, such as the reimposition of jizya, or poll tax, offended his Hindu subjects.


The centuries of Mughal rule became associated with luxury and wealth, and the empire's riches also allowed for the flowering of the arts. Babur had written his autobiography, and many of the Mughal leaders who followed were concerned with cultivating an active cultural life throughout the empire. Especially important in this process were the Persians, who contributed their famed literary and scientific traditions to Mughal culture. It was under the rule of Akbar—who is often considered to be the greatest Mughal ruler—in the late 16th century that the empire scaled new cultural heights.

Art, handicrafts, and architecture flourished during his time. Akbar spent lavishly on poets, painters, historians, and musicians. This growth, however, did not end with Akbar—perhaps the most enduring monument of Mughal culture is the stunning Taj Mahal, built under Shah Jahan's supervision.


A number of factors led to the decline of the Mughals. The empire had grown during the reign of Aurangzeb, but his successors failed to control the vast territory. Warring factions and family rivalries weakened it from the inside, while constant warfare was a drain on money and manpower. Aurangzeb's religious intolerance angered non-Muslims. The growing Hindu Maratha Empire in southern India capitalized on Mughal weakness and made conquests in the northern territory. By the time the British deposed the last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, in 1858, the Mughal Empire consisted of little more than the Red Fort in Delhi.
Monument of love
The iconic Taj Mahal, is perhaps the finest example of Mughal architecture. It was built as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, beloved wife of the Mughal emperor Shahjahan (c. 1628-58), who commissioned it to house the queen's remains after her death in 1631.

The Marathas began to fight for supremacy against the Mughals in the 1640s, led by the warrior Shivaji. They eventually controlled much of India until the early 19th century.
The Marathas were based in the west of India, primarily in Maharashtra. Under the leadership of Shivaji— crowned king in 1674—they grew into a powerful kingdom. Shivaji wanted to challenge the ruling Mughals because of their religious persecution and oppression. He organized a group of willing soldiers, who attacked and raided less-protected outposts throughout the 1640s and 1650s. A decisive victory in 1659 helped to pave the way for the eventual toppling of the Mughal Empire. This left much of India under the control of Maratha chiefs, who sometimes quarreled among themselves, from about 1674 to 1818.

The Marathas practiced the ancient Hindu religion. This influenced everything from their style of literature to architecture and ornamental items in the home. Maratha society was structured along a caste-based hierarchy as set down by Hinduism.

The Glorious Revolution

Elections in Oxfordshire

Thejoseon dynasty, established in 1392, ruled Korea for more than 500 years. Although intially inspired by Ming China, this period saw the emergence of distinct Korean cultural forms and a Korean phonetic alphabet.
After military leader Yi Song-gye defeated the reigning Goryeo king in 1392, he established his own dynasty, which he called Joseon. Yi, later known as King T'aejo, moved the capital to Hanyang (modern Seoul). His successors stayed in power for more than 500 years, until Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910.

The Joseon had a close relationship with the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and China considered Joseon Korea to be a subordinate state. There is much evidence showing the cultural influence of the Chinese in this period, including the replacement of Buddhism with a form of Confucianism as the official ideology. Koreans did bring their own traditions to some artistic fields. The creation of a royal kiln in 1392 greatly increased porcelain production, and many ceramics borrowed indigenous forms. This period also saw the development of a phonetic, written Korean alphabet in the 1440s called Hangul.

The Qing dynasty transformed China not only by adding significantly to its size and population but also by spending vast sums of money on its cultural life. The empire's first two centuries were marked by strong leadership, such as that of Emperor Kangxi, who was in power for 61 years. It was also well known for the production of luxury goods, such as silks and fine porcelain.
The Qing dynasty ruled over China from 1644 until the start of the 20th century. It was founded by the Manchus, from Manchuria in northeast China. The preceding Ming dynasty had entered a troubled period by the 1600s, and in 1644 the rebel leader Li Zicheng captured the capital of Beijing. The Ming emperor asked the Manchus to help fight this invader—a disastrous move, as the Manchus had ambitions of their own and eventually took control of the Ming Empire.


China's longest-serving emperor, Kangxi, was one of the best-known and greatest rulers of this period. He began his reign at the age of six in 1661, initially with the help of regents, and stayed in power until his death. The size and population of Qing China grew significantly during his reign. He consolidated control of other parts of China while also quelling internal revolts. In addition, he managed to extend Chinese power to Siberai, Central Asia, and Tibet, assimilating people who were not Manchu or Chinese. This period was marked by conservative attitudes infused with the Confucian principals of hierarchy. Although Qing society was guided by Confucian philosophy, it was not the only prevalent belief system. Many people followed the principles of Taoism (or Daoism) and Buddhism, both of which had existed in China for more than 1,500 years. Kangxi also welcomed members of the Catholic Jesuit order to enter China, and took a keen interest in their knowledge of astronomy, map-making, and other scientific pursuits.


Kangxi was willing to open up a few ports, including Canton, for trade with foreigners. Ships from Britain and the Netherlands, among others, soon arrived, bringing foreign merchants eager to buy goods such as silk, porcelain, and especially tea. This beverage had long been popular in China—some estimates date its use as a drink to around 600 ce, although it had been used for medicinal purposes for at least 2,000 years before that. Once traders had their first taste of tea, they were keen to take it to their home countries, and Great Britain became one of the biggest markets for this product.


The growing international trade added to the prosperity of this period, which continued under Kangxi's son Yongzheng, and Yongzheng's son, Qianlong. Kangxi's son and grandson were both great patrons of the arts; Qianlong himself painted and was a poet. Their interest and patronage meant that art and culture flourished during the period. But at the same time, the regime harshly censored any writings deemed to be subversive.
The financial stability of the empire encouraged elites to fund painters and poets. Painting was considered an important art in early Qing China, and European influences were seen in paintings for the first time during this period. There was also a growth of traditional handicrafts, such as porcelain-making, which was partly driven by international demand for Chinese wares.
Gateway to heaven
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is part of the Temple of Heaven complex in Beijing, which was built under the Ming dynasty and expanded by the Qing. The Hall's three roofs have three levels of columns supporting them, and the entire structure was built without the use of a single nail.
Lioness with cub

The Chinese Conquest of Xinjiang

The Edo period in Japan (1603-1868) was a time of peace and stability. The economy grew, and there was agreat artistic flourishing that saw the development of forms such as woodblock printing, kabuki theater, and haiku poetry. Social changes also took place, as the wealth of middle-class merchants increased and the power of the mighty samurai warriors declined.
Lasting more than 250 years, the Edo period differed significantly from the decades that preceded it, during which Japan had been a mostly feudal society divided by civil war between rural lords. These conflicts were gradually brought to an end, culminating in the shogunate—or military rule— founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The country's capital was moved from Kyoto to Edo, which is today's Tokyo (the city was renamed in 1868). Although the static social order remained, with the samurai at the top of the hierarchy, by the end of the period the merchant classes had made significant social and economic gains, while the samurai warriors saw their fortunes and power decline. However, the relative stability of the period helped open the way for a wide range of other economic and cultural changes.


Despite the many internal changes, Japan was fiercely isolationist when it came to external matters. European explorers began to arrive in the 1500s—they were already navigating the globe and trading with China. Christian missionaries, especially Jesuits from Portugal, were among the first to land. They gained some access, but the shogunate considered them and their religion to be a threat to order. Most were expelled from Japan in the early 1600s.

At the same time, merchants who sailed to Japan had hoped to access the silver from its mines, as well as goods for trade, but they too were seen as potentially destabilizing. The nation adopted a fortress mentality, but not before these foreigners had introduced firearms, which the Japanese soon began to produce themselves. By the 1630s, Japan's citizens were forbidden to trade with outsiders, or to travel abroad, on pain of death. The one exception was a small settlement of Dutch merchants, who managed to keep their trading post in Nagasaki, a port to the south of Tokyo.

However, this isolation was no barrier to internal economic and cultural changes. Japanese arts thrived as the economy grew in the 18th century. Urbanization had begun, and cities such as Tokyo became centers for the manufacture of products such as silks. The merchant class sought to display the wealth gained through trading these goods, becoming patrons of the arts and spending their money on new leisure activities. Professional female entertainers (geisha) prospered, music and literature flourished, and the visual arts embraced woodblock printing. Kabuki, a type of theater involving highly stylized singing, dancing, and costumes, emerged.


These social changes undermined the position of the samurai classes. They were usually stationed in rural palaces, connected to the local ruler, and dependent on land tax for their earnings. The growing urbanization meant their power was waning. Many samurai found themselves heavily in debt at the end of the Edo period, while the middle-class merchants enjoyed their wealth, climbing the social ladder to positions of prominence previously denied to them.

Although their fortunes declined during the Edo period, the samurai were a privileged and powerful caste—and today their history, which dates back to the 700s, their style of battle, and the intricate armor they wore continue to generate much interest and admiration. Samurai armor was highly decorative, yet necessarily functional. While the armor remained colorful and well crafted, the design changed to reflect the evolving trends in combat—warriors fighting hand to hand had different requirements to those who were mounted on horseback or facing gunshots. An elaborate suit, such as the one shown here, would indicate a wearer of high status, rather than a common foot soldier.


These complex garments were made from a variety of materials. Although metals figured predominantly, leather, lacquer, and even silk were also used. The main sections of the cuirass (which protected the torso) were generally forged from iron and steel that were then tied together to make plates of protective mail.