5 Must-Sees @ Istana Heritage Gallery

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5 Must-Sees @ Istana Heritage Gallery

May 12, 2017

History buffs and heritage enthusiasts will want to check out the Istana Heritage Gallery at the Istana Park (35 Orchard Road).

The 254sqm gallery, an open-sided shelter that has been transformed into a glass pavilion about the size of three four-room Housing Board flats, is located directly opposite the main gate of the Istana (Malay for “palace”).

In showcasing the history and heritage of the stately Istana (the official residence and office of the President of Singapore), the gallery offers visitors a better understanding of the Istana's significance, evolution, interiors and modern-day role.

Among the items on display at the gallery are 18 state gifts from foreign dignitaries to Singapore’s past and present Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Here are 5 state gifts to look out for at the gallery:

1.  A pair of silver goblets
Presented by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (on her third state visit to Singapore) to the late President S R Nathan in 2006, the goblets testify of Singapore’s longstanding friendship with the United Kingdom.

Etched on the goblets’ surfaces are Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Cypher and Singapore’s Coat of Arms. Hallmarks at the back of the goblets include the maker’s name, “WRA” (William R Asprey); the lion passant guardant which certifies it to be the highest grade (925 sterling silver); the town mark (London); the year in which the piece was verified – “C” (2002); and the Golden Jubilee mark of Queen Elizabeth II.  

2. Bronze bust of an Induna
This bust was a gift from the late South African President Nelson Mandela to the late President Ong Teng Cheong in 1997.

The Induna, in the Zulu community, is considered a great leader, advisor, headman or commander of a group of warriors. The feather in his headdress, possibly from an ostrich, serves as a form of identification for each warrior group.

3. Mangosteen-shaped trinket boxes
These boxes were presented to then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2000 by Brunei Darussalam’s Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah.

Mangosteen, the queen of fruits, is an economically important tropical fruit species that is native to Southeast Asia. It is believed that the fruit originated in the Sunda Islands (currently part of Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia) and the Moluccas. The boxes represent the strong friendship between Singapore and Brunei, since diplomatic relations were established in 1984, with leaders sharing close personal ties and frequent exchange of visits at all levels.

4. Silver cigarette box
One of the earliest recorded gifts from a Malaysian head of state to Singapore, this cigarette box was presented by then Governor of Penang Raja Tun Uda Al-Haj bin Raja Muhammad to the late President Yusof Ishak, Singapore’s first president, in 1961.

The cigarette box is an example of repoussé where the decoration is hammered into the reverse, resulting in a low relief. The Coat of Arms of the Federation of Malaya (1948-1957) sits on the cover, while those of the 11 states line on the sides of the box.

5. Bronze medal
This medal was given in May 2016 by Pope Francis to President Tony Tan Keng Yam who was the first Singaporean head of state to meet a Pope in the Vatican City.

The medal has a central fissure dividing a rock into two halves. Overlaying the fissure is an unyielding olive branch which seeks to unify the halves. This is a metaphor for the duty of all states and individuals to build a culture of peace – “to seek what unites, to overcome what divides” as conveyed in the inscription “Ricerca cio’ che unisce, supera cio’ che divide”.  



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Photos courtesy of the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and the President’s Office

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