THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

193 posts categorized "Art"

22 December 2017

The 'Flower Garden' (Phulban), an illustrated Dakhni romance

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Today's post is from guest contributor and regular visitor to Asian and African Collections, Sunil Sharma, Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature at Boston University.

The seventeenth century witnessed a flowering of literature in Dakhni, a language that was essentially old Urdu and used in the entire Deccan peninsula, especially for the genre of the narrative verse romance (masnavi). The chief centres for the literary florescence were the courts of the Adilshahis in Bijapur and the Qutbshahis in Golconda. Royal patrons at these courts sought to elevate the status of the vernacular Dakhni to that of the more prestigious lingua franca Persian. Continuing an older tradition that began in the north, poets recast tales from the Indic tradition by adding various Persianate elements, even as they produced retellings of classical Persian stories with Indic features. A canonical work in this literary production was the Phulban (Flower garden), a verse romance composed in 1656 by the court poet Muhammad Mazharuddin Ibn Nishati, which was dedicated to the generous patron, the Qutbshahi king ʻAbdullah (r. 1626-72). We know next to nothing about the poet other than the meagre tidbits of information that he provides in the poem.

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Portrait of the patron, Sultan ʻAbdullah Qutbshah who ruled Golconda from 1626 to 1672 (BL IO Islamic 14, f.10r)
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The British Library manuscript IO Islamic 14 is an illustrated copy of the Phulban.[1] The text is written in Persian naskh, accompanied by 43 paintings, some on double pages. Although undated, it is likely that this manuscript dates from the mid-eighteenth century since it has several codicological similarities to another Dakhni verse romance, the more sumptuous Gulshan-i ‘ishq (Rose garden of love) in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1945-65-22).[2] Both manuscripts have their provenance in the library of Tipu Sultan. The fascinating history of the travels of this collection is described in an earlier blog: Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah. The BL Phulban was apparently not completed since there are blank spaces for section headings and also some additional paintings.

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The poet, Ibn Nishati seated in a walled garden writing his poem. The line that the poet is writing in the book corresponds to the first of two in the text block above the image. Outside the walled enclosure is an Indo-Persian garden with both cypress and mango trees, flying birds, and strange-looking squirrels (BL IO Islamic 14, f.13r)
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The Phulban comprises almost 2000 couplets and is a racy mix of romantic escapades and fantastic adventures involving Chinese merchants, kings of Kashmir, Sindh, Egypt, and Ajam, princes, princesses and fairies, mendicant figures such as a dervish and yogis, a talking parrot. The opening narrative involves a story told by a dervish to the king of the fabled city of Kanchanpur (City of gold).

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A dervish and the king of the fabled city of Kanchanpur (BL IO Islamic 14, f.20r)
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But this is not the frame story of the Phulban. Rather the whole work is a loose collection of tales, as one story leads to another. Ibn Nishati claimed in the prefatory part of the poem that his work originates in a Persian work named Basatin that is a mirror of love (basatin jo hikayat farsi hai / muhabbat dekhne ki arsi hai), exhorting himself to “translate” it into the more accessible Dakhni.[4] This Persian Basatin has generally been considered as a reference to a lost work, but it is most likely the fifteenth-century Indo-Persian prose romance, Basatin al-uns (Garden of companionship) written by Muhammad ibn Sadr Taj ‘Abdusi Akhsitan Dihlavi, a work that had a moderate degree of readership in the early modern period.[4] Some changes in place names were made in the Dakhni version, such as the city of Ujjain becomes Kanchanpur. Ibn Nishati’s work is considerably shorter than the Persian one, which is in mixed prose and verse.

The story of the king who learns the secret of making his soul enter another creature’s body has its origins in Sanskrit literature, especially connected with King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. In the Dakhni version, the king’s evil vizier learns the secret mantra and takes over the king’s body and life. It is the king’s faithful wife who helps him kill the villain and re-enter his own body.

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The evil vizier takes over the king’s body and life (BL IO Islamic 14, f.41r)
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The longest story in the second half of the text is a romance with a somewhat convoluted plot that involves the love, separation, and reunion of the Egyptian prince Humayun-fal and the princess of Ajam, Samanbar. Although they elope and live in hiding, the king of India falls in love with her as she is drying her hair at a palace window.

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The King of India falls in love with Princess Samanbar (BL IO Islamic 14, f.61v)
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In order to steal her from his rival, the king conspires to have Humayun drowned, but the distraught Samanbar spurns him. To avenge his son’s death, Humayun’s father comes with his Egyptian army and in an epic interlude defeats the Indian king. It is then discovered that Humayun did not die after all and is being held captive by fairies. Overjoyed by the news, Samanbar becomes a jogan and sets off to find him.

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Princess Samanbar sets off in search of Prince Humayun (BL IO Islamic 14, f.83r)
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She arrives at a stunning palace whose walls are adorned with inscriptions of the feasts of the Qutbshahs, the battles of the Turkmen, and pictures of legendary Persianate lovers such as Shirin-Farhad, Vamiq-Azra, and Layla-Majnun. The fairy princess Mulkara discovers her there and helps the lovers reunite. A third of the total paintings in the manuscript are devoted to ethnographic scenes depicting the wedding celebrations of Humayun and Samanbar.

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 Wedding procession (BL IO Islamic 14, ff.116v-117r)
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The numerous manuscripts of Phulban attest to the work’s popularity and importance in the Urdu literary culture of an earlier age. As with most Dakhni literary works, this one too has never been translated. As Ibn Nishati described the discerning reader in the concluding section of his work: “He who understands figures of speech is knowledgeable and will appreciate my verbal skills” (jo ku’i san‘at samajta hai so gyani / vahi samje meri yo nukta-dani).

Sunil Sharma, Boston University
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[1] See J.F. Blumhardt, Catalogue of the Hindustani Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office (London, 1926), pp. 55-56.
[2] For a discussion of this manuscript see N.N. Haidar, "Gulshan-i ʻishq: Sufi romance of the Deccan", in L. Parodi (ed.), The Visual World of Muslim India (London, 2014), pp. 295-318.
[3] Phulban, ed. ‘Abdul Qadir Sarvari (Hyderabad, 1938), p. 22. The introduction is useful for the facts known about Ibn Nishati and also a summary of the story in modern Urdu.
[4] This Persian text was published as Basatin al-uns, ed. Nazir Ahmad (New Delhi: Centre for Persian Research, Office of the Cultural Counsellor, Embassy of Islamic Republic of Iran, 2010).

04 December 2017

Illuminating India: Photography 1857-2017

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Illuminating India: Photography 1857-2017  is a special exhibition at the Science Museum, commemorating 70 years of Independence and is part of the British Council's UK-India Year of Culture. This ambitious survey documents the use of photography in the subcontinent and how it portrayed as well as perceived pivotal events in history including the Mutiny of 1857 and Partition and Independence in 1947. The exhibition is arranged in 6 sections: ‘The Mutiny’, ‘Photography, Power and Performance’, ‘Early Colour’, ‘Independence and Partition’, ‘Modern India’ and ‘Contemporary’. The exhibition is drawn from multiple collections, notably the British Library and the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, as well as works from contemporary photographers including  Vasantha Yogananthan and Sohrab Hura. The British Library has lent 15 individual photographs and albums which are featured in the first two sections of the exhibition. A few of the highlights are discussed in this blog post.

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Felice Beato, Panorama of Lucknow, BL Photo 1138(1)   noc

Felice Beato's six part panorama of Lucknow, one of the principal sites of the atrocities of the Mutiny, is featured in the start of the exhibition.  Beato, a war photographer, went to India to document the aftermath of the Mutiny and arrived in Lucknow in March 1858. He photographed many of the destroyed buildings including the Sikandra Bagh, a poignant photo that featured the remains of Indian soldiers in the foreground. Beato also photographed several panoramic views of the city, including this one picturing the courtyard of the Kaisarbagh from the Roshan-ud-Daula Kothi. This once magnificent palace complex was only completed in 1852 just a few years before the uprisings, for local ruler Wajid Ali Shah. The Kaisarbagh was designed by Ahmad Ali Khan, an architect who would learn about photographic process from a British solider and be appointed as the official court photographer.  

Khan learned to produce both daguerreotypes and photographic prints. His photographs are well documented in the British Library's collection.  One of the earliest photographs featured in the exhibition and from our collection includes a portrait of Nawab Raj Begum Sahibah of Oudh, the daughter of the King Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh, taken in c. 1855. Khan obtained permission from the King to take portraits of his wide and the ladies of the court (Gordon 2010, 148-9). The Library’s collection also includes Ahmad Ali Khan’s portrait of the King of Oudh and his wife (BL Photo 500). 

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Nawab Raj Begum Sahibah of Oudh, the daughter of the King Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh, by Ahmad Ali Khan, c. 1855. BL Photo 500(3)  noc

The exhibition features works by both commercial photographers, Indian and British, as well as amateur photographers. In regards to the Mutiny, two works by Major Robert Christopher Tytler and his wife Harriet are featured in this section. Tytler was in the Bengal Army and both he and his wife were in Delhi during the siege. He learned the art of photography and printing from both Felice Beato and John Murray in 1858. They took more than 500 photographs of sites associated with the Mutiny. In Lucknow they photographed the Macchi Bhavan, a fortress that would ultimately disappear by the 1890s, and the decaying splendour of the Chaulakhi gateway into the Kaiserbagh palace. 


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Palace of Shuja ud-Daula at Lucknow (left) with the mosque of Aurangzeb in the far distance by Robert and Harriet Tytler, 1858. BL Photo 193(14)  noc

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[View of the principal gateway into the Kaiserbagh, Lucknow.] by Robert and Harriet Tytler, 1858. BL Photo 193(22)  noc

The exhibition also features works by John Murray, documenting the sites of Cawnpore and Delhi in the aftermath of the Mutiny, including the Sutter Ghat or the Sati Chaura Ghat, where there was a major massacre of Europeans who attempted to flee down river by boats to Allahabad and were shot by sepoys on 27 June 1857. The final and perhaps one of the most iconic images from our collection, that of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, awaiting trail in 1858, before he was sent to exile in Burma, is featured in this section. 

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The Ex-King of Delhi [Bahadur Shah II] by Robert Tytler and Charles Shepherd, 1858. BL Photo 797(37)  noc

In the second section, 'Photography, Power and Performance', photographs from the British Library document the imperial grandeur of the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon's tours of India in 1899 and 1902. Our presentation album, 'HE Lord Curzon's first tour in India, 1899' includes photographs of visits, receptions and ceremonies at Delhi, Bombay, Bhopal, Sanchi, Gwalior, Agra, Sikandra, Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, Vrindavan, Kanpur, Lucknow and Varanasi. Included on display are the iconic images of Lord and hunting tigers and their trophies.

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'First tiger shot by HE Lord Curzon in India, Gwalior' by Lala Deen Dayal from the album HE Lord Curzon's first tour in India, 1899. BL  Photo 430/17(33) noc

The exhibition also features a section the use of photography as a medium to document anthropology and ethnography as demonstrated through the J. Forbes Watson's The People of India (an eight volume study rooted in imperialist ideology) and William Johnson, The Oriental Races and Tribes, Residents and Visitors of Bombay, 1863.

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Full-length seated portrait of Shah Jahan Begum (1858-1930), daughter of Sikander Begum and herself Begum of Bhopal 1901-26. BL Photo 355/9(33) - also published in The People of India, by James Waterhouse, 1862.  noc

 

Additional photographs on loan to the Science Museum include:

An illustrated historical album of the Rajas and Taaluqdars of Oudh (Allahabad, 1880), compiled and illustrated by Darogah Haji Abbas Ali, Government Pensioner, late Municipal Engineer, BL Photo 987.

The Lucknow album (Calcutta, 1874), compiled and photographed by Darogha Abbas Ali, BL Photo 988. 

Shikar party [Lord Curzon and party posed with dead tiger beneath shooting platform near Nekonda, Warangal District, Hyderabad] by Lala Deen Dayal, April 1902. BL Photo 556/3(67)

Their Excellencies on jhoola [Lord Curzon taking aim from a shooting platform in a tree, near Nekonda, Warangal District, Hyderabad] by Lala Deen Dayal, April 1902. BL  Photo 556/3(65)

 

Further reading:

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

India through the lens. Photography 1840-1911, edited by Vidya Dehejia, ( Washington DC, 2000)

The coming of photography in India, by Christopher Pinney (London 2008)

Traces of India: photography, architecture, and the politics of representation, 1850-1900, edited by Maria Antonella Pelizzari (Montreal, 2003)

Lucknow: City of Illusion, ed. Rosie Llewllyn-Jones (Delhi, 2008)  

'A sacred interest: the role of photography in the city of mourning' by Sophie Gordon in India's fabled city, the art of courtly Lucknow (Los Angeles, 2010)

 

Malini Roy

Visual Arts Curator 

 

29 November 2017

Fifty shades of Kiều

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Kim Văn Kiều, or the Tale of Kiều, by Nguyễn Du (1765-1820), is a jewel in the crown of Vietnamese classical writing. In Vietnam, as Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen (2003: 18) points out, the Tale of Kiều has been embraced by the general public, who see it as a romance, a book of divination, and a moral fable, while scholars explore its literary, linguistic, philosophical, political and social aspects. The eponymous heroine is the most acclaimed lady in Vietnamese literature, and her captivating but tragic story has inspired many artistic depictions. The most outstanding version in the British Library collection is undoubtedly a manuscript which was completed around 1894 (Or 14844), written in Hán-Nôm with illustrations of scenes from the story on each page, and a fine yellow silk binding with dragon patterns. Shown in this post are a selection of images of Kiều from this beautiful manuscript, alongside more recent portrayals from printed books.

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Kiều demonstrates her talent for playing the Ho guitar. British Library, Or 14844, f. 3r  noc

Literary critics have argued that the theme of the story is an allegory of Nguyễn Du’s guilt and conflict of interest in agreeing to work for the new regime (the Nguyễn dynasty, 1802-1945) which had been indirectly involved in the overthrow of his former master. This behaviour was unacceptable in traditional Confucian Vietnamese society as it was tantamount to betraying filial piety. Hence the theme of the story was a poignant reminder for Nguyễn Du, who was born into a high profile mandarin family, and whose father served as a high ranking minister under the Le dynasty.

Nguyễn Du was inspired by a Chinese Qing dynasty novel ‘The Tale of Chin, Yu , Ch’ia’ while he was leading a diplomatic mission to Beijing in 1813. He re-wrote the story by using ‘lục-bát’ or ‘six-eight’ verse form. The ’lục-bát’ was a commonly used and popular style in folk poetry and it was conducive to reciting. Its original title in Vietnamese is Ðoạn Trường Tân Thanh (A New Cry From a Broken Heart). However, it is better known as Truyện Kiều or Kim Văn Kiều.

The name of the story Kim Văn Kiều derives from the names of three important characters: Kim Trọng, Kiều’s fiancé and her first love; Thúy Văn, Kiều’s younger sister; and Thúy Kiều herself; the main protagonist being, of course, Thúy Kiều. Arguably the most recognised and stereotypical image of Kiều is of her playing a musical instrument, usually depicted either as a Ho guitar or a p’i p’a lute. In his English translation of the story, Lê Xuân Thủy describes her talents and beauty: "The bow of her eyes looked like two graceful autumn waves ... flowers envied her brightness, and willow shivered for not being so clear. With one sidelong glance, then another, she could subvert empires and put cities in revolution ... Being a thorough master of the Cung Thương five-tone scale, she excelled chiefly in playing Ho guitar ... (1960?: 22-23).

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Kim Văn Kiều, by Le Xuân Thủy (1960?). British Library, 16690.a.40, front cover

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Tryuện Kiều, by Nguyễn Thạch Giang (2010). British Library, YP.2011.b.433, back cover

Kiều was born to a family of scholars and was a vision of idealised Confucian womanhood: beautiful, chaste, obedient and loyal to her family (Nathalie 2003: 14). A virtuous and graceful young woman, however her fate was doomed, and she had to sacrifice her love and life to save her father and her family. After a noble upbringing, she gradually fell into disgrace, being forced to work as a prostitute, not once but twice, and had four husbands. At one point she even stole valuables from her master to survive. After fifteen years of suffering, she was finally reunited with her first love, Kim Trọng. However, after all she had gone through she could not see herself as his wife, and therefore remained in a platonic relationship with him, and asked her younger sister, Thúy Văn, to marry him instead.

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Kiều meets Kim Trọng for the first time. British Library, Or 14844, f. 6r  noc

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The first meeting of Kiều and Kim Trọng in Truyện Kiều (2010). British Library, YP.2011.b.433, pp. [20-21]

It is hard to imagine how this pure and talented young lady faced and coped with her subsequent downfall. In the following images, the manuscript artist depicts the lowest point in Kiều’s life, when she was sold by her first husband to a brothel. Tứ Bà, the madame and owner of the brothel cajoled Kiều into prostitution: ‘Listen to this my daughter, and keep this in mind: there are seven interior attitudes and eight intimate techniques to amuse people …until you can turn them upside down like stones…you must know how to charm them, sometimes by the tips of your lips, sometimes by the corner of your eyes, sometimes by reciting alluring poems, and occasionally by the flowers of your smile’ (Le Xuân Thủy, 1960?: 176-77).

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Tứ Bà taught Kiều how to use her charms to attract men. British Library, Or 14844, f. 29v  noc

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Kiều in Tú Bà’s brothel. British Library, Or 14844, f. 25r   noc

As Nathalie (2003: 13) points out, Kiều and this literary genre ‘stand out as a character of universal and enduring appeal, a vulnerable individual with whom those most acutely affected by change and misfortune can readily identify. For generations of Vietnamese who have experienced years of turmoil, changing regimes, colonisation, post-colonisation, war and exile, Kiều’s troubles strike a deep emotional chord.’

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Kiều is kidnapped on the order of Hoạn Thư, the first wife of Kiều’s second husband. British Library, Or 14844, f. 38v   noc

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The same scene depicted in Truyện Kiều (2010). British Library, YP.2011.b.433, p. [119]

Reflecting its popularity, Kim Văn Kiều has been widely published in various forms, and in the British Library alone, there are over thirty books on this Vietnamese classic. Literary criticisms, different interpretations and translations of Kiều, both in Vietnamese and foreign languages, continue to be published; for instance, in 2004, Vladislav Zhukov translated the story into English with his own interpretations. His version complements well other widely recognised English translations, especially those by Lê Xuân Thủy in the early 1960s and by Huynh Sanh Thong in 1973.

Further reading

Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen. Vietnamese Voices: Gender and Cultural identity in the Vietnamese Francophone Novel. DeKalb: Illinois: Northern Illinois University, 2003.
Kim Văn Kiều: English translation, footnotes and commentaries, by Lê Xuân Thủy. Fort Smith, Arizona: Sống Mới, [1960?]
Ta Quang Khôi. Nhân vật truyện Kiều, in Hồn Việt. Vol. 36, No. 323 & 324, January-February 2011, pp. 138-143.
Nguyễn Du. Truện Kiều : thơ và tranh. Nguyễn Thạch Giang, dịch. Hà Nội : Văn học, 2010.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork

23 October 2017

Mastering the art of a strong background: examples from Thai manuscripts

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The importance of a strong yet subtle background cannot be underestimated in manuscript painting. Illustrations in manuscripts often accompany a particular text, or are used to highlight an important section of text. At the same time they function as decorative elements and sometimes their purpose is to increase the value of a manuscript. Manuscript painters had to master the fine balance between the subject or central motif, determined by the text, and decorative ornaments and backgrounds in a painting. The background is an important part of the composition and has a significant impact on the finished artwork: if it is too strong or blatant it dominates the rest of the painting, but a weak or neglected background leaves a large area of the painting unappealing.

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Scenes from the legend of Phra Malai while meeting the god Indra in one of the Buddhist heavens (left) and the future Buddha, Metteyya, shown with attendants (right). Central Thai folding book dated 1875. British Library, Or 6630 f.43 Noc

In Thai manuscript art special attention was usually paid to the design of backgrounds in paintings depicting heavenly scenes and celestial figures, whereas the backgrounds of worldly scenes were often shown in a realistic way with plants, rocks, ponds, mountains, buildings, etc. The marvellous scenes shown above are from the legend of the Buddhist monk Phra Malai, here shown during his visit to Tavatimsa heaven. The lavishly gilded red background in a flame-like pattern known in Thai as lai kranok complements the main figures and the structure of the heavenly stupa Chulamani Chedi perfectly. Red was a preferred background colour even before the 19th century, but at that time decorative elements of different sizes and shapes were strewn in randomly to fill in empty space, as shown below in the example from the 18th century.

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A scene from the Nimi Jataka showing Prince Nimi’s journey to the Tavatimsa heaven, passing through the Buddhist hells. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts, 18th century. British Library, Or 14068 f. 4 Noc

The 19th century was a period of experiment and innovation in Thai manuscript painting. Not only were new and brighter tones for background designs introduced, but also strong and well-structured patterns like the lai kranok. Minerals to produce blue tones were expensive and rarely used in manuscript illustrations before 1800, but during the 19th century blue paints were imported from Europe and sometimes were used very lavishly to questionable artistic effect.

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The gods Indra (left) and Brahma (right) with attendants in their heavenly environment. From a central Thai folding book containing the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1875. British Library, Or 6630 f. 1  Noc

In the image above the strong blue background used for the central part of Buddhist text passages in Pali language, written in gold ink, is almost overwhelming. It is unlikely that the excessive use of blue was the painter’s decision, but rather the request of the person(s) who commissioned the manuscript. Bright blue tones became very fashionable during the 19th century and together with the gold ink they made the manuscript appear more valuable. In the illustrations of the gods Indra (left) and Brahma (right) together with other celestial beings, however, the painter decided to use blue tones very sparingly in the lai kranok pattern which has a bright red as its basic tone, very much in the pre-1800 tradition.

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The gods Indra (left) and Brahma (right) in their heavenly environment. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, 19th century. British Library, Or 15257 f. 2 Noc

The usual way to record text in illustrated Thai folding books was to write it in black ink on the naturally cream-coloured paper as shown above. Sometimes, the paper was blackened and the text recorded in yellow ink or white steatite pencil. The image above shows illustrations of the gods Indra (left) and Brahma (right), both before a background dominated by red. The lai kranok pattern makes use of white, blue, green and pink tones. The figures are kneeling on a blue ground that is decorated with gold floral patterns.

Besides the lai kranok pattern, floral background designs enjoyed great popularity throughout the 19th century. The use of floral patterns for backgrounds was a further development of the already well-established application of flowers and foliage as decorative elements in manuscript illustrations of worldly scenes before the 19th century, though not in strictly structured, pattern-like designs.

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Illustrations of four Buddhist monks at a funeral. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, 19th century. British Library, Or 15257, f. 4 Noc

Flowers are not only aesthetically-enhancing elements in Thai manuscript painting. They can also symbolise a peaceful and enjoyable environment as well as positive thoughts and beautiful minds. This can be assumed in the case of the illustrations above, showing four Buddhist monks seated in meditation or while chanting Pali texts at a funeral. Although the floral pattern of white-and-pink blossoms with foliage in green tones on a dark brown foundation is very strong and distinctive, it does not overpower the four figures in the foreground. The monks’ appearance is presented in very bright colours, dominated by an almost white cream tone and an intense orange so that they stand out before the darker background.

The following three manuscript illustrations feature similar floral background patterns which aim to enhance the appearance of the god Brahma, a red Hanuman figure and a hermit.

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The god Brahma seated in a respectful pose on a floor decorated with red foliage before a black background with a light blue and green floral pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1903. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15370, f. 4 Noc

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The red coloured Hanuman seated in a respectful pose on a floor decorated with white foliage before a black background with a white, pink and green floral pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1903. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15370, f. 8 Noc

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A hermit seated in a respectful pose on a floor decorated with blue foliage before a black background with a white, pink and green floral pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1903. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15370, f. 10 Noc

Simpler floral background patterns that were frequently used consisted of triple blossoms, single or multi-coloured, combined with a green leaf as shown in the image below. An even more simplified floral pattern consisted of a combination of dots arranged in such a way that they resembled multiple blossoms on trees. Such simpler floral patterns were also used to decorate curtains or carpets which sometimes appear in manuscript paintings.

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A half-human half-bird kinnara seated in a respectful pose on a floor decorated with green foliage before a black background with a simple multi-coloured floral pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1903. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15370, f. 9 Noc

Another frequent background pattern in Thai manuscript painting is the cloud pattern. Consisting of distinctively shaped white or light blue clouds on a bright blue foundation, this pattern usually accompanies celestial beings to show their heavenly environment. The cloud pattern often resembles clouds that were used in East Asian manuscript decoration (compare, for example, the Vietnamese Truyện Kiều) and may have been adopted from East Asian traditions.

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Celestial banner bearers (left) and the future Buddha Metteyya with attendants (right) before a light blue background with a cloud pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1849. British Library, Or 14838, f. 57 Noc

The manuscript paintings shown above are fine examples where larger and smaller clouds were combined to form a light-blue and white background pattern that contrasts and enhances the presentation in yellow, orange and red tones of celestial beings (devata) and Metteyya, the Buddha-to-be, in their heavenly environment.

A clear example of neglect in the background design can be seen in the illustrations below. Although the artist put considerable effort into the execution of the celestial beings, paying much attention to details of their clothes and jewellery which are presented in gold, yellow and orange tones, the background design is really bland with broad white brushstrokes thrown wildly on a blue foundation.

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Male and female heavenly beings, devata, before a poorly executed background with clouds. From a central Thai folding book containing the legend of Phra Malai, 19th century. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15371, f. 25   Noc

It is difficult to explain such carelessness in the presentation of the background. The painter may have been under time pressure to finish illustrating the manuscript; or maybe he wanted to experiment with foreign water-colour painting techniques which he had not mastered yet. It may also be the work of two painters, one of whom was not very skilled or an apprentice. Another possibility is that the manuscript was produced at one of the many commercial workshops that had sprung up in Bangkok during the second half of the 19th century where numerous low-quality manuscripts and affordable copies of older, more valuable manuscripts were produced by less skilled artists.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork

18 October 2017

Bestiary of Fears – an artist’s inspiration from illustrated Hebrew manuscripts

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Today's  post is by guest contributor Jacqueline Nicholls, a London based visual artist and Jewish educator. She uses her art to engage with traditional Jewish ideas in untraditional ways. She co-ordinates the Art Studio and other Arts & Culture events at JW3, and regularly teaches at the London School of Jewish Studies. Jacqueline’s art has been exhibited in solo shows and significant contemporary Jewish Art group shows in the UK, USA and Israel, and she was recently artist-in-resident in Venice with Beit Venezia. Jacqueline is a regular contributor to BBC R2 Pause for Thought

In the Jewish religion the seven weeks between the freedom festival of Passover and the festival of Pentecost is called the Omer. It is traditional to ritually count every day of these seven weeks and to use this time for personal spiritual transformation. For the last couple of years I have used this time for art projects, and I have undertaken this counting as a daily drawing practice, exploring different themes each year.

In 2016, I was invited to make use of the online digital Hebrew manuscript collection of the British Library and give feedback on how this resource could be useful for artists. I used this as an opportunity to explore the collection with a very personal project: The Bestiary of Fear. If this time is one of personal transformation, the focus for this project was to be on the things that terrify and paralyse the self and prevent growth. The etymology of the word ‘monster’ and the word ‘to demonstrate’ have the same root. They issue out an omen, bring forth a warning, and make visible that which is hidden in the dark. This Bestiary would be an externalising of the internal hidden fears, drawing them out to identify and demonstrate them, transforming the fears into finite monsters that can be contained, and hopefully, overcome.

The process of making this Bestiary was one of daily introspection; by contemplating my vulnerabilities, I was able to identify the fears I wanted to explore through this project. This introspection was followed by searching through the collection items included in The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts to find forms that resonated with the fears I had identified. I was drawn to the strange animals and fantastical beasts in the marginalia, and decided to focus on adapting them to develop the drawings for the Bestiary of Fears.

Seven manuscripts were selected for this project, exploring one each for a week of the seven-week Omer. They were: The Barcelona Haggadah (Add MS 14761), The Yonah Pentateuch (Add MS 21160, Prayer book (Add MS 26957), The Northern French Miscellany (Add MS 11639), The Hispano-Moresque Haggadah (Or 2737), The Sister Haggadah (Or 2884), and The Golden Haggadah (Add MS 27210). As the Omer begins during the festival of Passover when the Haggadot would have been used, it seemed appropriate to primarily focus on the illustrations within the Haggadot in the British Library’s collection.

The beasties and monsters within these manuscripts are delightful and charming. Sometimes the connection with the text is clear, fulfilling an interpretive role of commentary. And sometimes their inclusion seems decorative with very loose connections to the content. There are breaks and dividing markers within the long body of writing and playful insertions in the margins. One of my favourites is the depiction of a dog licking its bottom on the page containing some special festive prayers in the Northern French Miscellany (Add MS 11639 f.232v).

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Dog licking its bottom, The Northern French Miscellany, France, 1278-1324 CE (British Library Add MS 11639, f. 232v)  noc

This whimsical and vulgar treatment is not found in modern day printed Hebrew prayer books, and contemporary Jewish religious culture is poorer for its exclusion. These are manuscripts that were made for a particular audience and therefore they can be intimate and personal in a way that printed books for a wider readership cannot.

An example of this can be seen in the Italian Prayer Book (Add MS 26957). This manuscript was created in 1469 for the patrons Menachem ben Shmuel and his daughter Maraviglia bat Menachem ben Shmuel. In this manuscript, mindful that it is made for a woman, the stage-directions for the prayers depict a woman and not a man as the active participant who performs the rituals. This is something that would be unusual to find in a mainstream printed Hebrew prayer book today. I was inspired by the woman on folio 55v, who is pointing to the blessing to count the Omer, as the inspiration for my Omer Drawings Day 24: Fear of Domesticity. To portray the fear I turned her pointing instructing finger into the gesture of an overbearing matriarch.

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Illustration of a woman pointing to the text for the counting of the Omer, Italy, 1469 CE (British Library Add MS 26957, f. 55v)  noc

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Omer Drawings Day 24: Fear of Domesticity ©Jacqueline Nicholls

In the process of searching through the beasts in the marginalia looking for the right external form to match the inner emotion, I sometimes made connections with the text on that page. An example of this can be seen in Omer Drawings Day 5: Fear of Disapproval. This features a stern, condescending, and judgemental creature looking down his nose and frowning with contempt. The inspiration for this beastie was found in the Barcelona Haggadah (Add MS 14761) accompanying the introductory passage of the Four Sons (f33v.), where it describes how a parent should tell the Passover story to their different types of children. It seemed fitting for this fear, because there is nothing more disapproving than the patriarch who judges his children, who pigeon-holes them and finds them lacking. 

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Introductory passage of the Four Sons, Barcelona Haggadah, Spain, 14th Century CE (Add MS 14761 f. 33v)  noc

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Omer Drawings Day 5: Fear of Disapproval ©Jacqueline Nicholls

I was particularly struck by the nuance and detail of expression that were captured in these small and delicate drawings. The high quality of the photography and the ability to examine close details on the computer screen meant that the subtleties and sleight touches in the drawings can be scrutinised without damage to the original manuscript. As the online digitised manuscripts do not have a scale on the screen, one can only estimate the size of the original manuscript and accompanying illustrations by noting the width of the pen strokes.

In the Yonah Pentateuch (Add MS 21160), the text of the Five Books of Moses is decorated with micrography of patterns and beasts in the margins around the text. This unique Jewish scribal art form consists of weaving minute letters into abstract, geometric and figurative designs. In the section which tells the story of Jacob and Esau, there is a strange dopey looking dinosaur-like figure (f. 19v) that became the inspiration for my Omer Drawings Day 9: Fear of Messing Up. The narrative of Esau and Jacob is one of a relationship that does not run smooth, with patterns of deceptions and mistakes.

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Micrographic dinosaur-like hybrid, Yonah Pentateuch, Germany, 2nd half of 13th century CE (Add MS 21160 f. 19v)  noc

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Omer Drawings Day 9: Fear of Messing Up ©Jacqueline Nicholls

Discussions about definitions of Jewish Art tend to centre on the prohibition of making graven images in the Ten Commandments. This focus side-lines the history and existence of Hebrew illustrated manuscripts. It misinterprets a specific Rabbinic directive about idolatry, putting it into a wider context of disapproval of the plastic arts. This has resulted in a tendency to be suspicious of or to downplay the role of the visual within Jewish heritage. As an artist who engages with traditional Jewish texts, it was refreshing and inspiring to connect with the range and diversity of imagery within the Hebrew manuscript collection at the British Library, at the same time becoming familiar with the quirks, humour and artistry that exist within the tradition, a spirit that can be renewed for contemporary Jewish Art.

The complete Bestiary of Fears can be found online at Jacqueline Nicholls: Omer Drawings.

Jacqueline Nicholls
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27 September 2017

A Judeo-Persian epic, the Fath Nama (Book of Conquest)

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While art historical research has focussed on the beauty and splendour of Persian miniature paintings, the study of Judeo-Persian manuscript art has lagged behind, receiving only more recently the attention and recognition it deserves. These paintings form part and parcel of manuscripts that have been copied in Judeo-Persian, that is a dialect or dialects of Persian heavily influenced by Hebrew and Aramaic and written in Hebrew script. The major obstacles to studying these significant hand-written books have been a lack of knowledge of the language, unfamiliarity with the Persian and Judeo-Persian literary traditions, and also with the history of Persian manuscript art in general.

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Joshua and the Israelites carrying the Ark of the Covenant and crossing the Jordan river, from the Fath Nama, Iran, gouache on paper, end of 17th or beginning of 18th century. The elaborate raised halo over Joshua's turban is a motif borrowed from Persian iconography, where it is especially associated with prophets (British Library Or 13704, f. 15r)
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A major change occured in 1985 when a scholarly study exploring the socio-historical and cultural factors that influenced the development of Judeo-Persian manuscript painting was published. This study by Vera Basch Moreen included a detailed inventory of miniatures in Judeo-Persian manuscripts held in major library collections. In it, she described twelve accessible Judeo-Persian manuscripts containing a total of 179 miniatures, as well as numerous additional decorative elements.

Persian manuscript art flourished particularly under the Safavid rulers (1502-1642) who deliberately encouraged the artistic expression of various population groups within their kingdom. The Safavid shahs not only patronized manuscript art, but some were gifted calligraphers and painters in their own right. As a result, during the Safavid period, the art of miniature painting spread from the royal workshops to the smaller aristocratic courts and ateliers, eventually reaching the marketplaces of Persia’s major cities. It was in these centres that the popular, provincial style of Persian manuscript art – to which the Judeo-Persian paintings belong – was born. Judeo-Persian manuscript illustration reached its pinnacle between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

Some art historians have argued that Judeo-Persian manuscripts commissioned by Jewish patrons were actually illustrated and decorated in Muslim workshops. Their view is based on the stylistic similarities existing between Persian and Judeo-Persian miniatures. The identity of the artists who created them remains uncertain, essentially because none of the existing Judeo-Persian miniatures found in these manuscripts were signed.

In terms of their content, Judeo-Persian illustrated manuscripts can be divided into two main categories: a) Hebrew transliterations of Persian classic works such as those of Jami (1414-1492) and Nizami (1140-1202), two giants of the Persian literary tradition; and b) original works by prominent Jewish-Persian poets such as Mawlana Shahin Shirazi (Our Master the Royal Falcon of Shiraz, 14th century) and Imrani of Isfahan (1454–1536). Among Shirazi’s epic compositions are the Musa Nama (the Book of Moses) dated 1327 which contains narratives from the Pentateuch and has around 10,000 couplets (consisting of two rhyming hemistiches), and the Bereshit Nama (Book of Genesis) which he completed in 1358, comprising over 8,000 verses.
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Seven Priests blowing seven horns in front of the Walls of Jericho, from the Fath Nama, Iran, end of 17th or beginning of 18th century (British Library Or 13704, f. 31v)
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Composed around 1474, Imrani’s epic Fath Nama (Book of Conquest) is a poetical paraphrase of narratives from the biblical books of Joshua, Ruth and Samuel, consisting of about 10.000 verses.   Imrani endeavoured to uplift the biblical story to the level of the Persian epic, combining in his works Jewish and Islamic legendary and literary material. He is known to have written ten full compositions all of which except three deal with Jewish themes. Imrani’s works are permeated with a deep sense of exile and isolation and a pessimistic view of human condition. While composing the Fath Nama, Imrani had the support of a patron – Amin al-Dawlah (Trustee of the State) who was most probably a wealthy man, perhaps an official in the city of Isfahan. When his patron passed away, Imrani abandoned his work, resuming it only after he had found another patron named Rabbi Yehuda.

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Left: Joshua and the Israelites fighting the People of Jericho (British Library Or 13704, f. 32r)
Right: Joshua and the Israelites at the battle of Ai (British Library Or 13704, f. 50v)
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Or 13704, the Fath Nama manuscript illustrated here, contains seven coloured illustrations[1] and numerous floral and faunal designs. The manuscript is incomplete, and, since it lacks a colophon, the exact date of its production and the names of its patron and creators are unknown. The assumption that the manuscript was written and decorated at the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century is based largely on the style of its paintings and on the names of former owners’ inscriptions found within its pages. Several scribes were responsible for copying the text in a writing style characteristic of Persian Jews.

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Left: Joshua and the Israelites fighting the enemies of the Gibeonites (British Library Or 13704, f. 75r)
Right: The death of the King of Makkedah (British Library Or 13704, f. 85r)
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This manuscript is one of two known illustrated copies of this work. Acquired in 1975, it was purchased from the estate of David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942), a renowned bibliophile of Baghdadi origin, who travelled extensively in search of books and manuscripts for his private library. His collection of 1,153 manuscripts is described in a two-volume catalogue published by Oxford University Press in 1932 under the title Ohel Dawid (David’s Tent). Thanks to the Polonsky Foundation, this manuscript has now been digitised and is available digitally on our Digitised Manuscripts site to explore cover to cover.

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An example of the typical bird and flower decorations in Or 13074
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Further reading
Moreen, Vera Basch, Miniature Paintings in Judaeo-Persian Manuscripts (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1985), pp. 40, 49-50.
–––, A Supplementary List of Judaeo-Persian manuscripts”, British Library Journal, Vol. 21, no. 1 (Spring 1995), p. 72 and plate II.
Moreen, Vera Basch and Orit Carmeli, The Bible as a Judeo-Persian epic: an illustrated manuscript of Imrani's Fath-Nama (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2016). On Ms 4602 of the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem.
David Yeroushalmi, Emrānī”, in Encyclopædia Iranica (1995).

Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies
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[1] Folio 90v, the only illustration not included here, contains an unfinished sketch in outline of Joshua in battle against the five Amorite kings.

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:

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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

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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

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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)

28 July 2017

Children of Sir John Spencer Login in Lucknow in 1846

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Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, the joint Library of Birmingham and British Library exhibition exploring Britain's enduring connections with South Asia opened on July 15th. Featured in the exhibition is a rather lovely portrait of the children of Sir John Spencer Login (1809-63)  with their ayah (governess) painted in Lucknow, India in 1846.

Login and his family's lives changed in the aftermath of the Anglo-Sikh war and annexation of the Punjab by the British, when he was appointed as the legal guardian of the ten-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh in Lahore in April 1849.

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'Maharaja Dhulip Sing', plate 1 from Recollections of India. Part 1. British India and the Punjab by James Duffield Harding (1797-1863) after Charles Stewart Hardinge (1822-1894), 1847. British Library, X738/1(1).   noc

Login was born in Stromness, Orkney in Scotland and trained at the Royal Infirmary at Edinburgh. After arriving in India in 1836, he obtained the position of surgeon to the 1st Brigade Horse Artillery and served under Sir Charles Metcalfe in Agra. In 1838, he was transferred to Lucknow where he was appointed as the Residency Surgeon and Postmaster General. It was in Lucknow that he met his future wife Lena Campbell, whom he married in 1842.

A rarity in the British Library’s collection is this rather lovely miniature painting on ivory, featuring the young children of John and his wife Lena who were born in Lucknow. Riding astride on the rocking horse and dressed in a tartan kilt is the eldest son Edward William Spencer Login (b.1843). Standing in a blue dress and missing a shoe is Lena Margaret Campbell Login (b. 1845). In the arms of their ayah is Louisa Marion d’Arcy Login (b. 1846). Standing off-centre is an Indian playmate. Painted by an unnamed Indian artist, it was completed a few months after the birth of Louisa.

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The Children of Sir John Spencer Login in Lucknow by an unnamed Indian artist, 1846. British Library, Add Or 5639.  noc

Lena Login’s published account Lady Login’s Recollections reflects on her life in Lucknow and her interactions with the women of the royal family of Awadh.  She wrote, ‘Indeed, Malika Geytee, the King’s favourite wife, treated me always as an intimate friend, and all the Princesses made a point of presenting me, on the birth of each of my children, as a sign of personal regard with a complete outfit of native dress for myself and the newcomer, of their own handiwork, gorgeously embroidered in gold and silver bullion’. Lena Login learned to speak Urdu and regularly assisted her husband to treat the women in the zenana that she could see first-hand and report symptoms back to Dr Login. As Login declined accepting payment for treating the local Nawabs, the family often received rather extravagant presents including a carriage ‘lined in satin and gold’ with ‘horses [that were] enormous milk white creatures with pink noses and tails of brilliant scarlet’. The children were sent baby elephants as well as ‘two huge Persian cats, more like leopards’.

After the departure of Lena and their children from India back to England, John Login fought in the second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49). In the aftermath, the British appointed Login as the guardian to the young ruler Duleep Singh. The Maharaja, only a few years older than Edward William Spencer Login, would remain under the care of the Login family until he was 19. They travelled from Lahore to Fatehgargh and ultimately Duleep Singh was permitted to travel to England in 1854. Invited to court, he developed a close relationship with Queen Victoria and her family. For the next several years, he remained with the Login family at Castle Menzies in Scotland. While visual evidence of his early years in England is primarily limited to formal portraits commissioned by Queen Victoria and her own sketches, an informal group portrait picturing the Maharaja with the Login children amongst other party goers at Castle Menzies taken in 1855 appeared at auction just a few years ago. It would be interesting to know if other visual representations of the young Maharaja and his adopted family have been identified and can be explored in a future blog post.

The painting of the children of John Spencer Login is currently on display at the Library of Birmingham in the exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage from 15 July – 4 November 2017.

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Further reading:

Edith Dalhousie Login, Lady Login's recollections : court life and camp life, 1820-1904, London, 1916. 

 

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator