THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

5 posts categorized "Architecture"

21 February 2018

Endangered heritage: cultural sites at risk from conflict on postage stamps

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The appreciation of postage stamp designs transcends the mere aesthetic since their designs can be used to enhance our understanding on a range of contemporary concerns relating to heritage. This is best exemplified with the postage stamps of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen depicting heritage sites destroyed, or at risk of destruction from armed conflict.

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
The Afghanistan 16 July, 1972 9 afghanis stamp (Fig. 1) depicts the Graeco-Bactrian Temple amongst the ancient ruins at Ai-Khanoum situated in present day Takhar Province, Northern Afghanistan. Initially believed to have been the Alexandria on the Oxus, established after Alexander the Great’s conquests in the region, it is now known to date to around 280 BCE during the rule of King Antiochus I. French and Russian Archaeologists worked on the site between 1964 and 1978 but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forced the excavations to be abandoned. Tragically, Ai-Khanoum was heavily looted and much of it destroyed during the ensuing conflict.

Afghanistan 2b  Afghanistan 2b
Figs. 1 and 2

The 3 afghanis stamp from the same issue (Fig. 2) depicts the Buddhist Stupa at Hadda, close to the Khyber Pass in Kandahar Province. Over twenty thousand Buddhist sculptures fusing Buddhist and Hellenic artistic traditions from the second or first century BCE were excavated at the site. Much of this site was destroyed in the Afghan Civil Wars between 1989 and 1986 which followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan 4a  Afghanistan 4a
Figs. 3 and 4

The Afghanistan 21 March, 1951 20 poul (Fig. 3) and 27 September, 1985 10 afghanis (Fig. 4) stamps both depict the largest of the Bamiyam Buddhas, situated in the Hazarajat region of Central Afghanistan. Part of the historic silk-road trade route linking India and China, Bamiyan was an important Buddhist holy site. Statues of the Buddha were carved out of the sandstone cliffs during the sixth century. The largest being 55 metres in height was once renowned as the tallest Buddhist statue in the world. In March 2001 the Taliban’s Military and Spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, ordered the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Their destruction immediately sparked outrage and condemnation within the international community. In an interview Mullah Mohammed Omar stated that he ordered the destruction of the Buddhas as an act of protest and outrage against the vast sums of money being offered to conserve such ancient sites whilst millions of Afghans faced real privation. Nevertheless the act of destruction was widely regarded by the United Nations, UNESCO and others to be an act of iconoclasm by the Taliban.

Syrian Arab Republic
Elsewhere, the Syrian Arab Republic 10 October, 1968 Ancient Monuments issue also includes a number of stamps depicting heritage sites destroyed or at risk from conflict. The 15p stamp (Fig. 5), depicts the Monastery of St. Simeon the Stylite, established during the fifth century northwest of Aleppo. The Monastery is one of the oldest surviving Byzantine Churches in the world and consequently the church and village were designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2011. Initial fears for the site’s safety were raised during the Syrian conflict whilst it was under the control of Islamic State forces who have garnered widespread notoriety for their practice of destroying Islamic, Christian and other historical sites. Although safely recaptured by Kurdish forces in 2015, the monastery was heavily damaged by a possible air strike on 12 May 2016.

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Figs. 5 and 6

The 50p stamp from the same issue (Fig. 6) depicts the Roman Theatre at Bosra situated in the district of Dar’a in south-western Syria. Carved out of black basalt in the mid second century CE, the theatre has a seating capacity for 15,000 people making it one of the largest and best preserved ancient roman theatres in the world. In March 2015, video footage was released showing rebel and Syrian Government forces battling amongst the ruins which resulted in the destruction of statues and shattered the stone work.

The second series of the Syrian Arab Republic 20 January 1969 Ancient Monuments Issue are also significant. The 25p stamp (Fig. 7) depicts the Baal-Shamin Temple in Palmyra which was consecrated in 32AD for worshipers of the Mesopotamian God Baal. Under Byzantine rule the temple was converted into a Christian Church before being again converted into a Mosque in 1132. The Mosque remained active until the 1920s when Franco-Syrian archaeological missions removed the post-classical additions to the site as part of a restoration process. The ruins were amongst the best preserved in Palmyra until August 2015 when Islamic State forces searching for hidden gold used explosives to demolish the site.

The 16p stamp from the issue (Fig. 8) depicts the Shrine of St John the Baptist housed in the Umayyad Mosque, Damascus. Built on the site of an old Christian Church in 634 CE, the Mosque is one of the oldest and largest in the world, widely regarded as Islam’s fourth holiest site. It houses the Shrine of St John the Baptist, a religious figure of importance to both Christian and Muslim believers. The tomb of the great Muslim leader, Saladin in also situated within an adjoining garden. For centuries the site has been a place where both Christians and Muslims have worshipped alongside one another peacefully. Although it remains undamaged, fears for the site's safety were raised in November 2013, after a mortar round landed perilously close to the mosque killing several people.

Syria 9_20170427_13540120 Syria 8_20170427_13533290Syria 9_20170427_13533290
Figs. 7, 8 and 9

Finally the 60p stamp (Fig. 9) depicts the Khaled ibn al-Walid Mosque in Homs, Syria. Although the current building was constructed in the twentieth century, the Mosque has been located at this site since 1265 CE. It is dedicated to and holds the mausoleum of Khalid ibn al-Walid, a military commander who led the Islamic conquest of Syria in the seventh century putting an end to Byzantine rule in the region. During the Syrian Conflict, the mosque was held by anti-government rebels and was consequently in 2013 shelled on a number of occasions causing significant damage to the building and tomb.

Republic of Iraq
A notable set of stamps depicting cultural sites impacted by the various conflicts in Iraq is the Republic of Iraq 1 December 1967 International Tourist Year Issue. The 15 fils stamp (Fig. 10) depicts the Minaret of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul. Established in 1172, the mosque was named after Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, a Turkic ruler of Mosul and Aleppo who ordered its construction. Having undergone significant development over the centuries, the mosque was made famous by its leaning cylindrical minaret nicknamed ‘al-Hadba’ (the hunchback) which was covered with elaborate Iranian style brickwork and surmounted with a white dome. In July 2014 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first appearance as IS leader at the mosque and announced the establishment of a Caliphate. Sadly in July 2017, IS forces used explosives to demolish the site during their retreat from Mosul.
Iraq 1_20170427_14143661Iraq 1_20170427_14143661
Figs. 10 and 11

The 80 fils stamp (Fig. 11) depicts the Minaret of Samarra, originally part of the Great Mosque of Samarra constructed between 848 and 851CE. Although the mosque itself was destroyed in 1278 during the Mongol Invasion of Iraq; its outer wall and iconic minaret known as the Malwiya Tower survived. Constructed of sandstone, the minaret is a spiralling cone fifty-two metres high and thirty three metres wide with a spiral ramp. During the Iraq War, US troops used the top of the minaret as a lookout position, making the site a military target. Consequently in April 2005 Insurgent activity resulted in the top of the minaret sustaining bomb damage.

Yemen People’s Democratic Republic
The Yemen People’s Democratic Republic 15 December, 1998 International Campaign for the Preservation of Old Sana’a Issue, 75 fils (Fig. 12) depicts the city’s skyline. Yemen’s largest city is recognised to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and contains many architectural wonders including the Great Mosque of Sana’a, the ancient clay walls and the Yemen Gate all of which are over a thousand years old. Declared a world heritage site by the United Nations in 1986, many of the city’s important historical sites including the ninth century mosque of the prophet Shuaibi are being destroyed or damaged by military action in the ongoing conflict in the country, largely a result of aerial bombardment by Saudi Arabia with the backing of other nations.

Yemen 5_20170427_14391657  Yemen 5_20170427_14391657
Figs. 12  and 13

The Yemen People’s Democratic Republic 28 August, 1985 UNSECO World Heritage Site, 50 fils issue (Fig. 13), depicts the iconic skyline of Shibam, another of Yemen’s cultural sites at risk from military conflict. The city is famous for possessing some of the oldest skyscrapers in the world, made from mud brick, many of which rise to between five and eleven storey’s high. Although the town has existed for almost two thousand years, many of these houses originated in the sixteenth century although they have been continuously rebuilt. These historic buildings have been at increasing risk from damage since 2009 when it was targeted in an Al-Qaeda attack- and remain so due to the ongoing conflict in the country. Sadly the destruction and damage sustained to many important heritage sites throughout these regions is set to continue for the foreseeable future. It is a sobering thought that many of the cultural heritage sites depicted upon postage stamps from these nations might not be with us for much longer.

Images have been taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Access to these collection items can be made by booking an appointment with the British Library’s Philatelic Collections on philatelic@bl.uk.

Richard Scott Morel, Curator, Philatelic Collections
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22 August 2017

Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinaire

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Through the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Purvai Project at An Lanntair cultural centre in Stornoway has curated an exhibition celebrating the life of Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), one of the Isle of Lewis’ most famous 19th century explorers who travelled to India and Indonesia. Mackenzie was born on the Isle of Lewis but spent most of his life in India working for the East India Company as a military engineer and surveyor. He saw action across South India, including at the Battle of Seringapattam (1799) against Tipu Sultan, and also spent two years in Java (1811-1812/13) as part of the British occupation force during the Napoleonic Wars. After his return from Java (Indonesia), Mackenzie was appointed the first Surveyor General of India in 1815. He held this post until his death in 1821. He is buried in Park Street Cemetary in Kolkata. The exhibition Collector Extraordinaire brings together a selection of drawings, coins and sculpture collected by Mackenzie from the collections of the British Library, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. For the first time ever, these collections have travelled so far north to Stornoway.

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View of Colin Mackenzie's memorial plaque and family mausoleum near Stornoway. Photographs by John Falconer, 2017.  noc

Mackenzie was interested in the rich history and culture of the lands in which he travelled and worked. He surveyed numerous sites of historical interest, including, famously, the stupa at Amaravati. During his long residence in India, Mackenzie, helped by his local assistants, amassed one of the largest and most diverse collections made here. The tens of thousands of objects in his collection ranged from coins to small bronzes and large stone sculptures, as well as natural history specimens, drawings, and both paper and palm-leaf manuscripts. After his death in 1821, his widow, Petronella, sold his collection to the East India Company for Rs100,000 (£10,000). Most of this material is now held at institutions in the UK and India, including: the British Museum, British Library, V&A, Chennai Government Museum, and the Indian Museum in Kolkata.

The British Library's collection includes more than 1,700 drawings collected by Mackenzie during his career in India. A selection of thirty-two drawings on a range of topics, from sculpture and architecture in India to antiquities in Java either drawn by Mackenzie or under his supervision, are currently on display in the exhibition. Additionally, the well known portrait of Colin Mackenzie painted by the British portraitist Thomas Hickey in 1816 is featured. The drawings are complemented by a number of sculptures and coins from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Highlights include:

CDNII_BRL_F13
Portrait of Colin Mackenzie painted by Thomas Hickey in 1816. Mackenzie, wearing scarlet uniform, is accompanied by three of his Indian assistants. In the distance is the colossal Jain statue of Gomatesvara at Karkala. British Library, Foster 13  noc

Mackenzie 3
Selection of drawings and plans relating to the Buddhist stupa at Amaravati as well as a limestone panel with a high necked vase called a Pūrṇaghaṭa (dating to circa 8th-9th centuries) from the British Museum (1880,0709.68) are on display. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017  noc

Mackenzie 4
Exhibition also features the Jain sculpture of Parvanatha from the Victoria and Albert Museum (931 IS) which dates to the late 12th century - early 14th century and found by Mackenzie in a ruined Jain temple in Karnataka. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017  noc

The exhibition 'Collector Extraordinaire' is on view at the An Lanntair and Museum nan Eilean from 12 August to 18 November 2017. The exhibition is curated by Catherine Maclean and is part of Storoway's Puravi festival. 

 

Further reading:

David M. Blake, ‘Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary’, The British Library Journalpp.128-150.

Jennifer Howes (2002) ‘Colin Mackenzie and the stupa at Amaravati’, South Asian Studies, vol. 18, pp.53-65.

Jennifer Howes (2010) Illustrating India: The early colonial investigations of Colin Mackenzie (1784-1821), New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sushma Jansari (2012) ‘Roman Coins from the Mackenzie Collection at the British Museum’, Numismatic Chronicle vol.172 (2012), pp.93-104.

Robert Knox (1992) Amaravati: Buddhist sculpture from the Great Stupa, London: British Museum Press.

Akira Shimada & Michael Willis (eds.) (2017) Amaravati: The Art of an Early Buddhist Monument in Context, London: British Museum Press.

 

Sushma Jansari (British Museum) and Malini Roy (British Library)

15 June 2016

The Great Palace at Madurai

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The city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu is the home of the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple, one of the largest and most famous temple complexes in the south of India. Far less is known about the Great Palace at Madurai, constructed by Tirumalai Nayak in the 1620s, which covered an area the same size as the temple complex. In the early 18th Century, following the demise of the Nayak Dynasty, the palace fell into disrepair. Today, only two buildings from the original palace are still standing, and are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

F31 detail
Detail from an oil painting by Francis Swain Ward showing the west side of the palace from outside the city walls, 1764 (British Library F31)
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In the British Library’s collections, there are numerous visual sources showing how the Palace at Madurai looked in the 18th Century. With the help of these images, one can reconstruct areas of the palace that are now missing.

Ktop115
Detail from a map of Madurai by William Jenings, 1755. The palace buildings, labelled “5”, are in the top left corner. (British Library Maps.K.Top.115.87)
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The history of courtly architecture in South India has understandably been overshadowed by interest in temples. It is far easier to research a vibrant living tradition than it is to study the fragmented remains of a palace. Fortunately, pictures and archival records such as those in the British Library can help form a clearer picture of Madurai’s palace, and its powerful relationship with the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple.

P948
Aquatint by Thomas and William Daniell of a missing courtyard, 1792. (British Library P948)
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WD4561
Drawing by Elisha Trapaud of missing structures in the palace, 1780s. (British Library WD4561)
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The Nayak Palace at Madurai is an architectural conduit towards our understanding of South Indian courtly architecture. It was constructed when the Vijayanagar Empire was falling into decline in the early 17th Century, and it was in use when a number of small adjacent kingdoms, such as Pudukkottai and Ramnad, began building palaces of their own. Madurai’s palace therefore provides an important link within South India’s palace building traditions.


Further reading
Howes, Jennifer, The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India: Material Culture and Kingship. London: Routledge, 2003.
Michell, George, The Vijayanagar Courtly Style: Incorporation and Synthesis in the Royal Architecture of Southern India. New Delhi: Manohar, 1992.
Patterson, George, The Diary of George Patterson (1772-1773). Vol. 8 of 9, pp. 238-242  (British Library Mss Eur E379). 

Jennifer Howes, Art Historian
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20 July 2015

Indonesia calling! Crowdsourcing catalogue records for the British Library’s Indonesian collection

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The British Library holds about 10,000 printed books in Indonesian, from early 19th century mission imprints through to contemporary research-level publications. Though not as comprehensive as the collections at the National Library of Indonesia or in Dutch, American and Australian libraries, the British Library nonetheless holds some rare and important Indonesian titles, ranging from educational publications in Malay printed in Batavia in the late 19th century to early works of modern Indonesian literature, with a particular strength in the social sciences – law, politics, economics – from the 1950s and 1960s.

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Indonesian literary works from the 1960s and 1970s in the British Library.  noc

Since 1982 Indonesian publications have been catalogued by computer and can be searched on the British Library’s online catalogue ExploreBL. Before that date, books were catalogued on cards, hand-typed by curators, and this card catalogue of about 4,000 earlier Indonesian titles has only been accessible in London, in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library.

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An Indonesian catalogue card, with the British Library shelfmark, 14650.dd.11, in the top right corner.  noc

In order to widen access to this and other such valuable collections, the BL has developed LibCrowds, a platform for hosting experimental crowdsourcing projects. The first project series is Convert-a-Card, which contains projects for the retroconversion of the Indonesian and Chinese card catalogues into electronic records, in order to make them available to a worldwide audience via ExploreBL. LibCrowds was launched in June 2015, and since then, one of the three drawers of Indonesian cards has been successfully tackled by contributors from all over the world, with a 50% hit-rate in which the catalogue card has been successfully matched with an electronic catalogue record for the same Indonesian book sourced from another library. The British Library shelfmark, shown in the top-right corner of the card, is then added by the contributor to the electronic record.

For a Flickr video to see how Convert-a-Card works, click here.

The third drawer of Indonesian catalogue cards has just been released, and the site also contains a simple three-step tutorial to participating in Convert-a-Card. If you would like to help us to make the contents of our Indonesian collection electronically available, please click here!

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Indonesian publications on law, politics and international relations from the 1960s.  noc

For more information, visit the LibCrowds Community, or email: crowdsourcing@bl.uk
Twitter https://twitter.com/LibCrowds

Annabel Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

With thanks to Alex Mendes and Nora McGregor for developing LibCrowds

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24 June 2015

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma

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Photo 612 (1)
Unknown Photographer, Portrait of Major-General Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902), Madras Army, (?)1880s, British Library, Photo 612(1).  noc

Once heard, the exotically-named Linnaeus Tripe is difficult to forget. Yet even in his own lifetime and certainly in the century and more since his death in 1902, appreciation of one of the most accomplished photographers in 19th-century India has been restricted to a limited circle of photographic and architectural historians. A comprehensive survey exhibition of his work, to which the British Library was a major lender, has been on show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over the past nine months. The third venue of this exhibition, opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 24 June, will give British audiences the opportunity to see some 70 examples of his work from Burma and South India.

Tripe entered the Madras Army in 1839, and probably learned photography during his first furlough to England in 1851–53. A small number of photographs taken in England during this period survive and in early 1853 he also became one of the founding members of the Photographic Society of London. But it was his return to India that saw the creation of his first extensive body of work. In late 1854 he travelled across country from Bangalore in the company of another early amateur photographer Dr Andrew Neill to make a detailed photographic survey of the extravagantly sculptured Hoysala temples at Halebid and Belur. These photographs received glowing reviews when they were exhibited in Madras in 1855 and paved the way for a major photographic commission from the authorities in Calcutta.

In the course of three wars of encroachment between 1824 and 1885, the expanding imperial domain of British India swallowed up the Burmese empire. After the conclusion of the second of these conflicts in 1853, it was decided that a mission should be sent to the Burmese capital, high up the Irrawaddy at Amarapura, to attempt to persuade the new Burmese king Mindon Min to ratify a treaty transferring the conquered territory of Pegu to British rule. While no great hopes were entertained for the success of this objective, it was seen as a rare opportunity to gather information about a country hitherto largely closed to western penetration. The Governor-General Lord Dalhousie considered that a visual record of the journey ‘would convey to the Government a better idea of the natural features of the neighbouring Kingdom of Burmah than any written report’ and that ‘sketches of the people and of cities and palaces … would give a life and interest to the future report of the Mission.’ To this end the artist Colesworthy Grant was chosen to accompany the mission (the resulting watercolours are held in the Library’s collections, shelfmark WD540). Photography had also recently begun to be encouraged and sponsored by the East India Company for the documentation of Indian architecture and Tripe, considered ‘very highly qualified in his field’, was also selected for the mission.

The party with its military escort steamed upriver on the Irrawaddy in August 1855, bearing as well as personnel and supplies, 59 crates of gifts designed to impress and gratify an eastern potentate. These included textiles, jewels, candelabra and swords, as well as more diverting amusements such as musical birds, a pianola and a polyrama (a popular optical toy presenting, in this case, dissolving views of Paris by day and night). Scientific instruments, including telescopes and sextants, were selected with the queen in mind, since she was known to be of a ‘scientific turn’ with a particular interest in astronomy. News of photography had by this time also reached the Burmese court and to satisfy the king’s interest in ‘sun pictures’ a complete set of daguerreotype equipment was also to be presented to him. Whether this last give was ever used seems doubtful, however, since Tripe’s attempts at teaching photography to one of the king’s servants were abandoned through lack of time and the man’s ‘desultory’ attendance at the lessons.

In the course of the mission’s journey, and over the six weeks it remained in residence at the capital, Tripe produced over 200 paper negatives of Burmese scenes, which represent photography’s first extensive encounter with Burma. While senior officials negotiated politely but ineffectively with their Burmese counterparts, Tripe produced around 50 photographs of the Burmese capital and the surrounding country. Within a few years Amarapura was to be abandoned in favour of a new capital a few miles upriver at Mandalay and Tripe’s prints constitute a unique documentation of the city and its environs before nature reclaimed its stupas, walls and palaces.

Photo 61_1 (46)
Linnaeus Tripe, Colossal statue of Gautama close to the north end of the wooden bridge, Amarapura, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(46).  noc

Tripe also explored as far upriver as Mingun, photographing King Bodawpaya’s grandiose and crumbling stupa (never completed and severely damaged by the earthquake of 1839). On both the outward and return journey the mission also stopped to survey the great plain of temples at Bagan—monuments of a previous ruling dynasty—and here Tripe made the first photographs of the principal landmarks of the site. As the mission’s secretary Henry Yule later wrote: ‘Pagan surprised us all. None of the previous travellers to Ava had prepared us for remains of such importance and interest.’ Their hurried tour also found time to note the elaborately carved wooden architecture of the monasteries, ‘rich and effective beyond description; photography only could do it justice.’

Photo 61_1 (25)
Linnaeus Tripe, Carved wooden doorway in the courtyard of the Zhwe Zigong Pagoda, Bagan, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(25).  noc

On the mission’s return to India, Tripe set about printing 50 sets of a portfolio of 120 selected Burmese views, a massive labour that was not to be completed until early 1857. Each paper negative had to be individually exposed in a frame in sunlight before developing, fixing and mounting the resulting print on card. To add to his labours, Tripe (or his Indian assistants) meticulously retouched many of the images, improving the appearance of foliage and the skies. The photographic chemistry of the period—predominantly sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum—tended to produce over-exposed and starkly blank skies. To remedy this, Tripe skilfully added skies and clouds by painting directly onto the surface of the negative, a remarkably effective technique that adds character and interest to these subtly toned studies of Burmese architecture. The demands of such work—involving the manual production of more than 6,500 mounted prints—are a striking demonstration of Tripe’s adherence to an aesthetic vision far beyond the requirements of pure documentation.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Jambukeshvara Temple, Srirangam, 1858. British Library, Photo 950(8).  noc

In March 1857 Tripe’s dedication was rewarded by his appointment as Government Photographer of Madras, his principal task being to service the growing demand for reliable visual evidence of India’s architectural heritage—in his own words, to ‘secure before they disappear the objects in the Presidency that are interesting to the Antiquary, Sculptor, Mythologist, and historian.’ In succeeding decades photography was to become a standard tool of record for the work of the Archaeological Survey of India, but Tripe was to be the most distinguished of a small band of photographers who spearheaded these first—often faltering—initiatives.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Entrance to the hill fort at Ryakotta, 1857-58. British Library, Photo 951(3).  noc

In mid-December 1857 Tripe left Bangalore with four bullock-loads of supplies and equipment on a demanding four-and-a-half month tour through rough country that would take him as far south as the great temple city of Madurai, before heading north-east to reach Madras at the end of April 1858. During this great loop through the modern state of Tamil Nadu, he visited and photographed major temple sites (among them Srirangam and Thanjavur), as well as hill forts, palaces and the occasional striking landscape. Among the most remarkable of the 290 negatives from this journey—not least in terms of technical ingenuity—is the 19-foot long panorama, composed from 21 joined prints, recording the inscription running around the base of the Brihadeshvara Temple at Thanjavur.

By August 1858 he was once more at Bangalore, setting up his establishment to print up the results of his travels. With the government’s agreement and subsidy, these were made available in a published series of nine slime folio volumes devoted to specific locations, the pasted-in prints accompanied by descriptive letterpress by several different authors.

Tripe had envisaged a wider and more ambitious photographic project, which as well as architecture would encompass ‘customs, dress, occupations … arms, implements, and musical instruments’ and, where appropriate, ‘picturesque’ subjects. But his employment as Presidency Photographer coincided with the economies imposed in the aftermath of the Uprising of 1857–58. In mid-1859 Sir Charles Trevelyan, recently appointed Governor of Madras, shocked by the expense of such large-scale photographic production, ordered an immediate end to Tripe’s activities, declaring them ‘an article of high luxury which is unsuited to the present state of our finances.’ By the spring of his 1860 his establishment had been wound up and his staff and equipment dispersed.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Trimul Naik’s Choultry, side verandah from the west, Madurai, 1858. British Library, Photo 953/2(2).  noc

The abrupt termination of his appointment, coming at a moment he considered merely the start of his photographic ambitions in India, must have been a bitter blow to Tripe. In response he appears to have abandoned photography entirely, apart from a minor series of views taken in Burma in the early 1870s. But in a photographic career effectively lasting little more than five years, Tripe had created a body of photographs that is now recognised as among the finest architectural work produced in the course of the 19th century. His interpretation of architectural form, revealed in a characteristic use of long receding perspectives and a sometimes near-abstract balancing of light and shade, was accompanied by a rare mastery of the paper negative process. His care in printing has meant that many of his images survive in near pristine condition and allow the modern viewer to appreciate the full beauty of 19th-century photography. Tripe’s original negatives also survive at the National Media Museum in Bradford (two examples are shown in the present exhibition) and detailed accounts of Tripe’s activities in India can be found in the Madras Proceedings of the India Office Records at the British Library. All these sources have been assiduously mined in the production of the exhibition and in Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot’s handsomely printed catalogue, which together give full if belated recognition to the sophisticated artistry of a major figure in photographic history.

 

Further Reading

Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot, Captain Linnaeus Tripe. Photographer of India and Burma, 1852–1860 (Washington: 2014)

Henry Yule, A narrative of the mission sent by the Governor-General of India to the Court of Ava in 1855; with notices of the country, government and people (London: 1858)

Janet Dewan, The photographs of Linnaeus Tripe : a catalogue raisonné (Toronto: 2003)

John Falconer, India: pioneering photographers 1850–1900 (London: 2001)

The majority of Colesworthy Grant’s watercolours of Burma and Tripe’s photographs of Burma and India can be seen online at http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/index.html.

John Falconer, Lead Curator, Visual Arts  ccownwork