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Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

28 August 2014

'A very ingenious person': The Maratha artist Gangaram Cintaman Tambat

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When I became responsible in 1986 for what was then the Prints and Drawings section of the India Office Library, I spent many pleasurable hours going through the collections, many of which were not yet in printed catalogues.  An unexpected discovery was a group of five drawings from late 18th century western India in the hinterland of Bombay, an area from which not many paintings were known, whether traditional or done for British patrons.  These five drawings include a self-portrait and four animal studies by the Maratha artist Gangaram Cintaman Tambat from an album compiled around 1790-95 for Charles Warre Malet (1753-1815) of the Bombay Civil Service.  

Self-portrait of the artist with his guru, both seated facing the other in profile.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed (by Sir Charles Warre Malet): Gungaram by Himself, very like + a very ingenious Person at Poona in the service of CWM, by whom the subsequent native sketches were drawn chiefly from life + His Groo a celebrated holy Hermit near Poona.  Water-colour on paper; 250 by 362 mm.  Add.Or.4145  noc

Malet’s importance stems from his last posting as the East India Company’s Resident to the court of the Maratha Peshwa at Poona, 1785-97.  The Marathas under the Peshwas, hereditary chief ministers of the Maratha rajas, were the principal power in western India and through their wide-ranging generals and their armies they controlled almost all of northern and central India as well.  The Company was growing alarmed at what it saw as the increasing belligerence of Mysore under Tipu Sultan and his pro-French policy and Malet was able to negotiate a treaty of alliance between the Company, the young Peshwa Madhavrao II (or rather his minister Nana Phadnavis) and the Nizam of Hyderabad, which since these two states were often antagonistic to each other was something of a diplomatic triumph.  When in 1789 Tipu Sultan attacked Travancore, a Company ally, the Governor-General Lord Cornwallis invoked his alliance with the Peshwa and the Nizam to attack Mysore and for a while to neutralise it.  In 1791 Malet received a baronetcy for his part in negotiating the treaty.

Malet lived in great style at his house near the junction of the Mula and Mutha rivers at Poona, maintaining gardens, orchards and a menagerie, as well as employing artists such as James Wales (1747-95) and Robert Mabon (d. 1798) (see M. Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825, London, 1979, pp.333-55).  Malet returned to Britain in 1798 accompanied by Susanna Wales, the daughter of the recently deceased artist James Wales whom he had befriended, and married her the following year.

Ktop CXV 59-1-c Treaty of Poona
A Representation for the Delivery of the Ratified Treaty of 1790 by Sir Charles Warre Malet Bart to His Highness Soneae Madarou Peshwa.
  Aquatint by Charles Turner after Thomas Daniell, 1807.  63 x 89,6 cm.  K.Top.CXV 59-1-c.  noc

Susanna Wales brought back to England all her father’s unfinished work.  This included his sketches for a large composition commemorating the 1790 treaty.  Malet asked Thomas Daniell to work the sketches up into a large oil painting (now in Tate Britain), and subsequently had Charles Turner engrave it in 1807.  The setting is the Durbar Hall of the Peshwa’s Shanwarwada palace in Poona.  Wales’s estate also included views of Bombay, which Malet arranged to have published in London in 1800, as well as his drawings of the Ellora caves, which he had Thomas Daniell engrave and publish as aquatints in 1803.  Malet’s collection of Wales’s drawings and sketches, along with his diaries, are now in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (see the exhibition publication by Holly Shaffer, Adapting the Eye: an Archive of the British in India, 1770-1830, 2011).

As is the case with most traditional Indian artists, we know nothing of Gangaram other than through his work and what Malet and Wales tell us.  Malet persuaded the Peshwa to establish a school for drawing in the palace at Poona and Gangaram seems to have been trained there in European techniques.  In addition to his animal drawings, he was employed by Malet to sketch Hindu architecture to illustrate Malet’s writings.  Malet published a paper on the Ellora cave temples in vol. 6 of Asiatick Researches (1801), illustrated with nine engravings after drawings by Gangaram.  In a foreword to this paper dated 1794, Malet notes that Gangaram had already been to Ellora to make drawings of the caves, when he himself had been prevented by illness from making the journey.

SV98 vol 6 pl. E opp. p.403
Ravana shaking Kailasa (Siva’s abode), at Ellora.  Engraving after Gangaram.  From Asiatick Researches, vol. 6, 1801, SV98, pl. E  noc

SV98 vol 6 pl. I opp. p.422
The Visvakarma cave at Ellora.  Engraving after Gangaram.  From Asiatick Researches, vol. 6, 1801, SV98, pl. I  noc

Malet noted in 1794 that Gangaram would be accompanying James Wales to Ellora to assist with his drawing of the temples.  Thomas Daniell engraved Wales’s drawings of Ellora as Hindoo Excavations in the Mountains of Ellora (London, 1803) and it is possible that one of the plates shows Gangaram himself actually at work, although Wales also had another Indian artist from Goa named Josi with him as well.

Daniell's Hindoo Excavations X432 pt 6 pl 19 det
An Indian artist possibly Gangaram sketching details of Hindu sculpture.  Detail from 'The Ashes of Ravana, interior view.' Plate 19 from Hindoo excavations in the mountain of Ellora, London, 1803.  X432/6 pl. 19 detail  noc

To return to where I started with Gangaram’s animal drawings.  All these drawings are outlined in water-colour with a brush, the outlines brushed in with very transparent washes, the details worked up, and then the whole outlined again where necessary, normally on European paper watermarked with a lily.  The album and other items associated with Malet and Gangaram passed down through the Malet family and were sold at various times.  The portrait and the four animal drawings were acquired in 1982.

Add Or 4146
A light brown saluki.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Chuba a Dog belonging to CWM.  Gangaram delint.  Water-colour on paper; 126 by 206 mm.  Add.Or.4146  noc

Add Or 4147
A black and white hound.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Spring, and below: Gungaram.  Water-colour on paper; 134 by 182 mm.  Add.Or.4147  noc

Add Or 4149   A lynx.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above in pencil: Syah gush (Persian for lynx), and on the backing sheet: Lynx.  Water-colour on paper; 70 by 125 mm.  Add.Or.4149  noc

Add Or 4148
A lion.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Lion.  Water-colour on paper; 161 by 243 mm.  Add.Or.4148  noc

Gangaram, living up to Malet’s description of him as a ‘very ingenious person’ also produced models of some of these animals, so when a group of these models appeared on the market including a camel, elephant and rhinoceros (Hobhouse Limited, Indian Painting during the British Period, London, 1986, no. 9), it proved irresistible to acquire one, although not until 1993, that was already represented by its drawing in the collection.

F872 side
A model of a lion.   By Gangaram, 1790.  Wax, possibly dhuna, the aromatic gum of the shal tree (Shorea robusta), painted; size of wooden base: 20.5 x 9.75 x 2cm; animal 12.5cm at highest point of mane.  F872  noc

F872 front
Gangaram’s lion.  F872, frontal view  noc

Gangaram has faithfully translated from paper to model the unhappy and mangy appearance of the poor lion including the halter round its neck.  Although Malet kept a menagerie, including the lion, some of the animals drawn by Gangaram belonged to the Peshwa, as Malet noted on a drawing of the Peshwa’s elephant named Ali Bakhsh (see Indian Drawings of Plants and Animals, Spring 1986, Hobhouse Ltd., no. 7).  Some of the models have labels written by Malet ascribing them to Gangaram. 

Finally the opportunity arose again in 1987 to acquire another drawing by Gangaram from the same album, this time of a camel.

A camel facing.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed in ink: The Figure of the Common Camel of Hindostan accurately taken from a Living One by Gungaram Chintamun Tombut of the follg. Dimensions [with detailed dimensions].  Poona 1790.  C.W. Malet.  And in nagari: gangaram cimtaman tabatAdd.Or.4364  noc

This drawing contains very precise measurements of the animal that must have been used when Gangaram made his scale model in wax - see Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox catalogue Indian Paintings for British Patrons 1770-1860, London, 1991, no. 5.


J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (Emeritus)    ccownwork

25 August 2014

A rare Vietnamese map of China

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One of the most interesting Vietnamese manuscripts in the British Library, Bắc Sứ Thủy Lục Địa Đô or, in Chinese, Beishi shuilu ditu, ‘The northwards embassy by land and water from Hanoi to Beijing’ (Or. 14907), has just been digitised. Written in the Vietnamese language in Chinese characters (chữ Hán) and dated 1880, the manuscript is a complete visual record of the route from Bắc Thành (the former name of Hanoi under the Nguyễn Dynasty) through China to Beijing, taken by envoys of the Vietnamese Emperor Tự Đức (r.1847-1883) on their tribute-bearing mission in 1880. This work was probably created as an archival record of the journey. Roads, mountains, waterways, bridges, buildings, cities and towns are all clearly depicted, as are the points of departure and arrival on the first and last pages. The title, written in Chinese characters (Beishi shuilu ditu), also includes the date (gengchen) of the journey, according to the Chinese 60-year cyclical system. The annotations on each page list place names and distances in Chinese miles (li or ly in Vietnamese) with occasional useful notes, such as ‘from here merchants used only Qianlong money’. Land routes are marked in red ink and water routes are recorded in blue ink.

The mission passed through Gong Xian County in Henan Province and crossed Luo River. British Library, Or.14907, ff.54v-55r.  noc

Towards the end of the 19th century Vietnam was faced with serious threats from French colonialism. After taking South Vietnam (Cochin China) in the 1860s, the French gradually fulfilled their territorial desire to occupy the rest of the kingdom.  In January 1874, after another defeat, the court of Emperor Tự Đức had to sign a treaty with the French which led to the occupation of North Vietnam. Under this treaty, Vietnam ‘s foreign policy was under the control of French colonial power. However, Vietnam still kept up its tradition of sending tribute missions to China.

The tribute system was employed in Chinese foreign policy for many centuries before its collapse at the end of the 19th century under the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). As the most powerful kingdom in East and Southeast Asia, China saw herself as ‘the Middle Kingdom’ and demanded that smaller and ‘inferior’ kingdoms in the region send her tribute on a regular basis. Small states in the region willingly sent tribute missions to Beijing, while not viewing this tradition as acknowledgement of vassalage to China; on the contrary, it was perceived as a reciprocal system, whereby Beijing was accepted as the patriarch of other, inferior, kingdoms. Once their missions had been received by the court in Beijing, recognition by China gave rulers of smaller kingdoms legitimacy to rule. The tribute system also provided security and political stability for smaller kingdoms against invasions from China so long as they did not implement any policy which would disturb the Middle Kingdom.


Arriving at Ansu Xian County in Hebei Province, north of the Yellow River, their route took them through temples and the White Pagoda. British Library, Or.14907, f.66r.  noc

As a neighbouring country, Vietnam had been one of the most active participants in the Chinese tribute system, which offered political gains allowing for peaceful co-existence with its powerful neighbour. As Brantly Womack points out, China was always Vietnam’s greatest political threat. Thus Chinese recognition of the Vietnamese court as the legitimate rulers of the country was invaluable and was tantamount to an acknowledgement of Vietnam’s right to exist.   In contrast to the colonialism of Western imperialism, China acted as the passive guarantor of a matrix of unequal but autonomous relationships, rather than as an active metropolitan power: to go to Beijing was more reassuring than to have Paris come to you (Womack 2006: 135).

From its very beginnings, not only did independent Vietnam publicly accept its status as a vassal, but it sent its most prominent scholars as emissaries on tribute missions.  William Duiker has characterised the historical relationship between China and Vietnam as follows: ‘To China, the Vietnamese must have resembled a wayward younger brother … Chinese attitudes toward Vietnam combined paternalism and benevolence with a healthy dose of arrogance and cultural condescension stemming from the conviction that it was China that had lifted the Vietnamese from their previous state of barbarism. As for the Vietnamese, their attitude toward China was a unique blend of respect and truculence, combining a pragmatic acceptance of Chinese power and influence with a dogged defence of Vietnamese independence and distinctiveness’ (Duiker 1986: 6).

Guangning Gate (30 ly before the main City gate). British Library, Or.14907, f.69r.  noc

The 1880 tribute mission took place against a backdrop of political difficulties in Vietnam. After the signing of the 1874 treaty, there was unrest in North Vietnam (Tonkin) among Vietnamese who saw the Nguyễn rulers as weak leaders who had readily capitulated to French power. The Black Flag rebellion, led by Lưư Vinh Phục, caused disruption to foreign commercial businesses and French religious missions, disturbing both Beijing and Paris. Hence two Chinese incursions took place in 1878 and 1879, while at the same time, the French kept putting pressure on the court in Huế with the threat of another invasion (Đinh Xuân Lâm 1999: 47). In order to appease the Chinese and to seek help from the Middle Kingdom, the Vietnamese court tried to send missions to Beijing.  Some missions were successful, but others were intercepted by the French. The 1880 tribute mission was therefore one of several attempts. It probably crossed the border in early October and arrived in Beijing in December 1880.

Zhengyang Gate, Beijing, leading to the Forbidden City. British Library, Or.14907, f.69v.  noc

The French perceived the Vietnamese court’s attempt to seek help from China as a violation of the 1874 treaty, which stipulated that Vietnam’s foreign affairs were under French authority. The colonial power thus used this as one of the pretexts to launch another attack against the Vietnamese. In April, 1882, French forces attacked Hanoi and consequently Huế. Emperor Tự Đức passed away on July 17, 1883 just before the court agreed to sign another treaty with the French (August 25, 1883), which brought all three parts of Vietnam under complete control of French colonial government.

The advent of French control over Vietnam seriously affected Chinese interests because trade between southern China and northern Vietnam was disrupted. Therefore, from 1882 China sent troops to northern Vietnam to protect its interests and fighting between French and Chinese forces erupted. However, the weakening Qing dynasty was not able to match the French might. The confrontation ended with Tientsin Agreement in May 1884 (Đinh Xuân Lâm: 1999, 58), in which China agreed to rescind its claims over Vietnam’s sovereignty. This also brought an end to the long-lasting tradition of the tribute system between China and Vietnam.

Further reading:

The manuscript Or. 14907 has been fully digitised and can be viewed here.

Đinh Xuân Lâm, chủ biên. Đai cương lịch sử Việt Nam, tập 2.  [Hà Nội] : Nhà xuất bản giaó dục, 1999.
Duiker, William J. China and Vietnam: Roots of Conflict. Berkley, California: University of California, 1986.
Trần Nghĩa. ‘Sa’ch Hán Nôm tại Thư viện vương quốc Anh’ in Tạp chí Hán Nôm (3[24], 1995). Hà Nội : Viện nghiên cứu Hán Nôm, pp.3-13.
Womack, Brantly. China and Vietnam:  The Politics of Asymmetry. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese

With thanks to Baohe Chen for help in reading the Chinese inscriptions.


21 August 2014

Persian letters from the Nawabs of the Carnatic 1777-1816

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Following the Seven Years War or, in India, the Third Carnatic War (1757-63), the Nawabs of Arcot (styled Walajah)—former dependents of the Nizam al-Mulk of Hyderabad—were confirmed as independent rulers of the Carnatic region of India (covering Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana states) by the Mughal Emperor, Shah ‘Alam, in 1765. Fostering relations with European settlers establishing military outposts along the Coromandel Coast, at Pondicherry (Puducherry) and Madras (Chennai), for example, the nawabs became closely involved with the transactions and officials of the Honourable East India Company, the British parliament, and even members of the Hanoverian royal family. The character and extent of these relations is reflected in the record of correspondence, treaties, and legal documents of the time. The British Library has inherited from the India Office Library a small collection of such correspondence, consisting of 12 letters in Persian (the official and literary language of the Mughal state), from which a small selection is described here. These were described by M.Z.A. Shakeb in 1982 in a short catalogue which has long been unavailable. A PDF version can be downloaded here.

Aquatint based on a picture by Francis Swain Ward (1736-1794) of the mosque adjoining the palace of the Nawab of Arcot at Tiruchchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. Plate 1 from 24 Views in Indostan by William Orme, 1803 (British Library X768/2/1)

The letters written by or issued in the name of the nawabs are on thin oriental paper and are unified as a group by a number of common features: 1) the narrow, vertically elongated scroll format; 2) the placement of ruled panels of text in the lower left corner leaving broad margins along the upper and right edges; 3) floral motifs in gold; 4) 2 separate cartouches for a short invocation followed by the fuller quotation of the koranic basmalah (Qur’an, XXVII:30); and 5) fine flecks of gold (zar afshani) within cartouches and panels of text.

IO Isl 4359
Letter written in 1801 from ʿAzim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to King George III (British Library IO Islamic 4359)

The first of these letters, IO Islamic 4359, is distinguished by broad margins covered in opaque gold wash surrounding the ruled panel of text. In keeping with conventions borrowed from imperial ordinances (farmans), this opulent effect is commensurate with the importance of the letter’s addressee, George III, described as

King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Christian faith, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover), Chancellor and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, Emperor of the Oceans, etc…

Written in an uneven Indian ta‘liq hand by the third nawab, ‘Azim al-Dawlah, the letter announces the death of the second nawab, ‘Umdat al-Umara, on 15 July 1801, and confirms his own accession with the aid of the East India Company.

IO Islamic 4361_1200
Letter written in 1801 from ‘Azim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to the Prince of Wales (British Library IO Islamic 4361)

The designs of letters communicating with other members of the British royal family are less opulent, but no less attractive, with repeated floral motifs in diaper arrangement, loosely painted in gold. The contents of letter IO Islamic 4361 are similar in tenor. Written again by the same nawab, this time in a more legible hand, it additionally requests the intercession of the Prince of Wales (George Augustus Frederick, later Prince-Regent, later King George IV) with his father, the king.

IO Islamic 4252_1200
Letter written in 1816 from ‘Azim al-Dawlah, Nawab Walajah III, addressed to the Directors of the East India Company congratulating them on the marriage of Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (British Library IO Islamic 4252)

Following a similar design scheme, the letter IO Islamic 4252 addresses this time officials of the East India Company. Commencing with a reference to the Battle of Waterloo (1815), the letter congratulates British forces on their ‘great victory’ in Europe (referred to here as vilayat) before going on to express pleasure at news of the marriage of the Prince-Regent’s daughter, Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales, to Prince Leopold Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duke of Saxony (later Léopold I, King of the Belgians), in 1816. The primary object of this letter is set out in the final few lines: to remind the Prince-Regent of his neglect in replying to earlier petitions, whereas the king did favour the nawab with a reply.

While other letters were written in the nawab’s own hand, this letter is written in a neat nasta‘liq hand by a practiced scribe. That its transcription was supervised by the nawab himself is indicated by the addition at the end of the text (bottom left corner) of the bold and stylised word, bayaz (fair copy), thus validating the letter’s authenticity.

IO Islamic 4251_1200
Letter dated 14 Rabiʻ II 1216 (24 August 1801) from Nawab Walajah III’s uncle to the Chairman, Court of Directors, East India Company (British Library IO Islamic 4251)

IO Islamic 4251_envelope_1200
Envelope with the seal of Anvar al-Dawlah Husam Jang Sayf al-Mulk Muhammad Anvar Khan Bahadur (British Library IO Islamic 4251)

Perhaps one of the least typical of this assemblage is the design and character of the letter IO Islamic 4251. Although lacking any ornamentation, defined panels and cartouches of text within rulings, and the narrow, elongated format seen in the previous 3 examples, it consists of 2 thin sheets of silver and gold-flecked paper (sim va zar afshan) covered on both sides in a densely-written nasta‘liq hand.

Written and composed by Muhammad Anvar Khan, brother of the second nawab, the first part of the letter sets out arguments disputing the East India Company’s decision to invest ‘Azim al-Dawlah as the third Nawab of Arcot. Although polite and coached in diplomatic prose, the letter is surprisingly direct in its expression of the extended nawabi family’s strong displeasure, specifying objections on grounds of illegitimacy, inheritance and succession rights under the shari‘ah, the author’s superior claims to the seat (masnad), and possible benefits to the Company if he were to succeed.

The second part of the letter discusses in greater detail the dynasty’s status as the confirmed rulers of the Carnatic region, the genealogy of the main claimants, the author’s claim, and the way in which the East India Company managed the succession. Taken as a whole, the letter vividly illustrates inherent tensions between the nawabs and the East India Company, which eventually took over the administration of the nawab’s domains following the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798-99).

Saqib Baburi, Asian and African Studies