Within the genre of South Indian art, sets of paintings on paper depicting a range of subjects including deities, tribes and castes, occupations, regional costumes, festivals and temple sites form a distinct group. Examples of these sets are found in the collections of many Western galleries and museums and are part of a hybrid style of Indian painting that incorporates elements from European art and is known as Company painting; taking its name from the various East India companies that were founded from the early sixteenth century. An album of paintings of Hindu deities recently acquired for the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria is an outstanding example of this genre and illustrates the complex story of reception when local art met colonial attitudes and preconceptions.
Paintings of deities in the Company style were commissioned and/or collated by European soldiers, administrators and missionaries, often as souvenirs or mementos of their time in India. The style incorporated naturalism and realism, such as modelled foliage and figures, shadows and perspective, but although influenced stylistically by European art, it was nonetheless grounded in a tradition of visualisation of the spiritual in which ‘cultural practices treat images as compressed performances’.1Christopher Pinney, Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India, Reaktion, London, 2004, p. 8. The purpose of images of the gods is not to be ‘representations in the sense of a screen onto which meaning is projected’ but to be part of a dynamic exchange, or darshan – seeing and being seen by the deity depicted.2ibid. These images, as originally intended by their creators, actively engaged the Hindu viewer in a spiritual event. It was not how they looked but what they could do that was important. However, Europeans commissioning deity paintings did not participate in this visual performance between image and viewer; on the contrary, many collected them as illustrations of a spiritual belief they misunderstood and rejected and, in the case of missionary collectors, a belief from which they sought to convert the Hindu faithful. This essay examines the NGV album of deity paintings in both of these contexts: that of the image as performative, spiritual presence, and as a visual manifestation of a foreign and strange belief.
The NGV’s leather-bound album comprises 108 paintings in the South Indian style depicting forms of the Hindu deities Vishnu, Shiva and the Goddess, as well as images of temples located near Tiruchchirapalli in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. An inscription inside the front cover dedicates the album to the ‘Rev. G. Gogerly, Oct 4/39’, and watermarks on several pages date the album to between 1833 and 1839.3The watermarks are ‘I RUMP 1830’ and ‘J Rump 1833’. James Rump was an English papermaker at Swanton Morley Mill in Norfolk between 1811 and 1840. I RUMP remains unidentified. I am grateful to Ian Dye for this information. The book is made up of two types of paper, a laid paper (thin, with chain lines and inscribed in ink and pencil with the name of the deity opposite in English and Tamil) alternated with English wove paper (heavier, with watermarks and illustrations). The wove paper sheets were folded in half to form bi-folios and sewn in the middle. The laid paper is inserted in the very middle of each bi-folio. From this construction with two illustrations painted on one sheet of paper which is later folded, we can surmise that the illustrations were made with the purpose of binding them in a book format rather than painted on separate sheets, which could also be intended for use unbound. I am grateful to Elisabetta Polidori, paper conservator, NGV, for this analysis. The subjects of the paintings and a comparison with other similar albums suggest it was produced in Tiruchchirapalli or Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.
South Indian devotional paintings
The painting tradition of the region of South India, now included in the modern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, incorporates styles which developed during the rule of successive kingdoms that held power over large areas, particularly the Vijayanagara Empire (1336–1646), the Islamic sultanates of the Deccan, (especially Bijapur and Golkonda in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), and the Maratha Empire (1674–1818). Mural paintings on temples and palaces, court paintings and devotional paintings in this style form a body of work that features the use of black outline, attention to details of elaborate costume and jewellery, and a physiognomy characterised by large, lotus-petal-shaped eyes; broad, arched brows; small, rounded chins; full-frontal faces; rounded limbs and an absence of modelling and shading. Early portable examples of the South Indian style include a group of deity and donor images painted on cloth, which formed part of temple hangings. Now thought to originate in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, they are dated to the early eighteenth century (fig. 2).4 This dating and attribution is discussed in Thomas Lawton & Thomas W. Lentz, Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 1998, pp.196–7.
Paintings in the South Indian style incorporating European elements – Company-style paintings – were produced in large numbers from the late eighteenth century.5See Mildred Archer, Company Paintings: Indian Paintings of the British Period, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1992, p. 21. Many Europeans who commissioned Indian artists were themselves amateur sketchers and watercolourists, and their paintings probably introduced European conventions of representation, including shadows, shading and modelling, and the inclusion of naturalistic scenery and foliage. The first Europeans to establish themselves in South India were the Portuguese, who set up a trading post or ‘factory’ at Nagapatam in 1507. In the seventeenth century the East India Companies founded by the Netherlands, England and France established similar posts in the region. As well as company employees, merchants, soldiers and missionaries also travelled to the area. By the early nineteenth century the British had established their dominance in South India following the Karnatic Wars (1744–63) against the French and the Mysore wars (1767–99) against the kingdom of Mysore. The Madras presidency, originally established by the English East India Company in 1652, governed much of South India and was administered by company officers and guarded by company troops. By the 1850s it was estimated that 20,000 Europeans were living in Madras, which had a total population of 630,000.6See Reverend Harvey Newcomb, Cyclopedia of Missions; Containing a Comprehensive View of Missionary Operations throughout the World; with Geographical Descriptions, and Accounts of the Social, Moral, and Religious Condition of the People, Scribner, New York, 1854, p. 535. This indicates that considerable numbers of Europeans were to be found throughout South India, creating a substantial market for artistic production.
The earliest extant examples of South Indian paintings commissioned by Europeans date from the late sixteenth century and focus on subjects that satisfied the European interest of the time in scientific classification and comparative studies of a wide range of subjects, including religions. As Manuel observes: ‘The sixteenth century saw a substantial widening of interest in Non European societies, for the Humanists engaged in collecting information as assiduously as the amassed natural and artistic objects in their cabinets of curiosities’.7Frank E. Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1959, p. 48. Albums of South Indian paintings collected by Europeans in India may be considered precursors of nineteenth-century Company paintings such as those in the NGV album. Sets dating from the mid sixteenth and early seventeenth century include depictions of Hindu deities, among other subjects, and were collected by missionaries and traders.
Sets of paintings of deities continued to be collected in the eighteenth century, including four from South India now in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, reflecting the strong French presence in South India until the 1760s.8These four sets are listed in Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, n. 81, p. 301; n. 9, p. 305. Bibliophiles like Charles Adrien Picard incorporated albums of South Indian paintings in his manuscript collection, including a two-volume set entitled Recueil des dessins et enlumineurs des dieux de l’Inde, acquired ‘from the collection of a Brahmin’ in Madras in 1765. This provenance indicates collections of deity images were compiled locally and perhaps inspired European travellers to amass similar groups. The albums were put to use as source material for illustrations for travelogues, studies of comparative religions and surveys of art and architecture. Images of deities originating from South Indian paintings became widely distributed in Europe through these publications. A collection of paintings of Hindu deities, Dieux des Indiens par Sami (Svāmi), was acquired by the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1784 and later provided sources for images in two French publications about India. The first was a travel account by P. Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes Orientales et à la Chine, published in Paris in 1782, the second was one of the earliest encyclopaedic works on India, Monuments anciens et modernes de l’Indostan, by Louis Langlès, published in Paris in 1821.9ibid., n. 81, p. 301. The repeated use of Sami’s images over a forty-year period indicates the fascination they held for a European audience.
These early paintings collected by Europeans and, in some cases, copied to provide the first images of Indian deities seen in Europe, are clear antecedents for later Company-style paintings of the same subject. The physiognomy of the figures, the use of black outline, the careful documentation of costume, attributes and companions of the gods and the clear, bright palette are all features repeated in nineteenth-century versions.
Art for pilgrims and temples: South Indian paintings in context
Although the identities of the artists responsible for the NGV album and others similar are not known, recent research by Dallapiccola indicates they probably belonged to the Muchi caste.10This attribution is discussed in depth in Anna L. Dallapiccola, South Indian Paintings: A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection, British Museum, London, 2010, pp. 19–22. The name is applied to artisans from both Marathi- and Telegu-speaking groups in South India. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Muchi artisans are documented in several occupations, including painting, toy-making, carving wooden images for temples, and working with leather as saddlers, shoemakers and bookbinders. Telugu-speaking Muchi artisans ‘known as the Bannagara of the Racheva (or Raju) caste’ were recorded in the Mysore Census Report of 1891 as both painters and makers of wooden images for temples.11ibid., p. 20. It is intriguing to speculate on the effect of one set of skills on another. The elaborate costume and bright colours of painted deities in the surviving album mimic those of wooden images of deities made by the same artist or family, and which may even have served as models. These brightly painted figures adorn the exteriors of South Indian Hindu temples and shrines (fig. 3).12 A connection has been noted between a type of Kalighat-style painting and painted wooden deity figures from Calcutta, both made as pilgrim souvenirs by sutradhar carpenters (see Jyotindra Jain, Kalighat Painting: Images from a Changing World, Mapin, Ahmedabad, 1999, chap. 2, and pp. 176–85).
Bronze and stone sculptures housed within Hindu temples may also have inspired the painters. Due to their low status, artisans would not have been allowed in the inner areas of the temples to view temple sculptures, but instead were able to study the sculptures when they emerged to take part in processions that were part of religious festivals. On these occasions the sculptures would be elaborately dressed and bejewelled, as are the deities in the paintings. The tradition of dressing and parading deity sculptures is still an integral part of worship in India and throughout the Hindu diaspora (fig. 4). The production of deity paintings therefore was part of a broader spectrum of artistic creation and religious ceremony, both centred around the temple and integrated within the community. The figure of Ganesh adorned for a procession at the Shiva Vishnu temple at Carrum Downs in Melbourne which has a predominantly Tamil congregation, wears garlands and a crown, and carries a noose in his left hand and a goad in his right. These adornments and attributes are mirrored in the image of Ganesh from the NGV’s Tamil album and illustrate the consistency of deity imagery over time, space and media.
The production of deity images by Muchi artists for the local market was also part of a widespread tradition in India of producing art as souvenirs for pilgrims and for private worship. The repertoire was not restricted to paintings on paper but also included images of deities painted on cloth, necklaces with painted amulets and painted figurines in clay and wood to suit all levels of income. South Indian paintings produced as pilgrim souvenirs and for domestic worship include Tanjore paintings, which were executed on cloth-covered wooden boards, and Mysore paintings on cloth and paper. Both styles are named after important Hindu temple towns that continue to provide a focus for pilgrimage. Surface ornamentation is a feature of these styles and also of Company-style sets of deity paintings such as that in the NGV album. In these paintings images of rubies, pearls and emeralds encrust every available surface. They are set into gold, strung into ropes and sewn onto intricately patterned fabrics. The jewels are rendered in thick, raised paint that has dimpled the surface of the adjacent page. The effect echoes the three-dimensional surface of Tanjore paintings in which jewels or coloured-glass gems are set into built-up layers of limestone mixed with glue (sukkan) which is gilded and painted. Similarly in Mysore paintings jewellery is indicated by raised beads of white paint, creating a three-dimensional effect. As Barbara Rossi and others have noted, the production of images intended for private worship was considered an act of devotion, and the elaborate decoration characteristic of the South Indian style of painting has also been interpreted as an act of reverence in itself:
The most typical pictures of these traditions [Tanjore and Mysore paintings] feature Hindu deities and were made to be hung on the interior walls of the household area given over to private veneration of deities, sometimes located in a separate room known as a puja (worship) room, or on the interior walls of a neighbourhood prayer hall.13Barbara Rossi, From the Ocean of Paintings: India’s Popular Paintings, A.D. 1589 to the Present, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998, p. 82; see also n. 46, p. 237.
Their elaborate finish meant that Tanjore and Mysore paintings were probably created for a relatively wealthy audience drawn from the aristocracy and the merchant and professional classes. These Indian patrons were acquainted with European missionaries, traders and administrators and probably introduced them to this style of painting. The contact between these European and Hindu communities would have provided an opportunity for the expansion of the market for Mysore- and Tanjore-style paintings, as well as creating a new market for hybrid Company-style paintings.
Styling for appeal: consistency and variation in South Indian painting
A comparison of South Indian devotional paintings and Company-style deity paintings reveals remarkable consistency in iconography, execution and composition. Consistent visual details seen in devotional paintings were necessary for the correct identification of the deity in images intended as a focus of worship, and this exacting attention to detail is carried through to Company paintings, including those in the NGV album in which the predominant images are those portraying Vishnu, the Hindu god who preserves cosmic order, and his ten avatars or incarnations. Each image precisely records iconographic details, including the deity’s physical characteristics and implements or attributes that not only identify the deity but also illustrate his or her inherent qualities.
The majesty and divinity of each god is articulated through sumptuous costumes and jewellery and the elaborate thrones and bolsters which support them. The majority of painted images are placed centrally on a blank page, either floating against the background or tenuously anchored by small shadows beneath each foot. The overall effect is a series of stiff, heavily ornamented, floating jewels painted in bright, rich colours (fig. 1). Occasionally a naturalistic tree is included in the composition and some of the deities are depicted within the particular temple in which they reside. Opposite each painting the name of the deity is inscribed in ink and pencil in English and Tamil.
A popular subject in both devotional and Company paintings from South India was Rama, Vishnu’s seventh avatar and, in particular, the scene of his coronation, Ramapattabhisheka. It is the subject of four comparable nineteenth-century paintings: Folio 1 from the NGV album (fig. 5); a painting in an album of Hindu deities dated c.1830 from Tiruchchirappalli, in the collection of the British Museum (fig. 6); a devotee’s icon painted in the Mysore style on paper on wood; a painting in the Tanjore style in the Thanjavur Palace.14The last three works are illustrated in Dallapiccola, fig. 7.27; Rossi, fig. 33; C. Sivaramamurti, South Indian Paintings, National Museum, New Delhi, 1968, fig. 105. The first two of these works are Company paintings intended for a European audience and the others are devotional paintings for local use. The iconography is consistent in all four examples. Rama sits in lalitasana (a sitting posture with one leg folded and the other pendant) on a jewelled throne, his right hand gesturing in vitarka mudra (a hand gesture in which the thumb and forefinger touch, denoting teaching and discussion). He is dressed in a dhoti and sash, and a garland and shawl are draped over his arms. He also wears an elaborate crown with pendants, necklaces and armbands, all made of gold inset with rubies, emeralds and pearls. He is accompanied by his wife, Sita, and surrounded by courtiers, sages and his allies, the monkeys and bears. Hanuman, leader of the monkey army, kneels before Rama and supports his right foot. Sugriva, the king of the monkeys, opens a chest of jewels, and another monkey holds the necklace Hanuman gave to Sita.
The main differences between these devotional paintings and the paintings intended for a European audience are stylistic. In the latter, greater use of shading and modelling creates plasticity and a sense of perspective, which could either indicate that the artists were copying the effect of the three-dimensional quality of Mysore and Tanjore paintings, or that they were incorporating stylistic elements seen in European watercolours and prints to make their images more appealing to that audience. The materials used in the Company paintings meant they were portable and inexpensive, making them suitable as souvenirs, and this market undoubtedly attracted many artists who expanded their repertoire from their usual production of images intended for worship by the local Hindu population to meet the demands of new customers.
The Indian artist’s ability to incorporate new styles to suit a new clientele is illustrated in an early-nineteenth-century folio, also depicting Rama’s coronation, from a manuscript in the NGV collection (fig. 7). Attributed to the Deccan region, the painting combines stylistic elements from South India, Mughal India and Europe, reflecting the Mughal style adopted by the Islamic courts of the Deccan, the adjacent painting style of the South Indian kingdoms and European presence in India. It illustrates Indian artists’ skill in adopting different artistic approaches according to the needs of their patrons. The composition is simplified and includes only eight figures, including Sita, Hanuman at Rama’s feet, sages and courtiers in their usual positions. They are located within a white marble pavilion resembling Islamic architecture of North India to which a jewelled architectural element characteristic of South Indian paintings has been added. The palace setting incorporates a characteristic, finely painted flower garden with a water feature, both of which are features of Persian courts brought to India by the Mughal dynasty and recorded faithfully in Mughal paintings. European stylistic elements include shading on the figures, and naturalistically painted trees that peep out from behind the pavilion, adding depth to the composition. The figure of Rama is still the focus of the group and invites the viewer’s engagement with his centralised position and direct gaze. His garments, jewellery, mudra (hand gesture) and posture are the same as those of the South Indian coronation paintings, as is the throne on which the god sits. His figure has the distinctive bold, black outline, rounded physiognomy and regular features of the South Indian style of painting, whereas the other courtiers, although wearing similar garments to Rama, are more delicately drawn in the North Indian Mughal style.
Sets of Company-school paintings of deities contemporary with the NGV album are in several collections, including those of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum (BM). An album in the latter collection is attributed to an artist from Tiruchchirapalli.15 See Dallapiccola, p. 100. The album is identified as ‘Asia 1992, 0410, 0.1–70’. Its seventy paintings include similar subjects to those in the NGV album, such as images of the Goddess, Vishnu and Shiva, temple sites, religious scenes, the ten avatars of Vishnu and other minor deities. Both albums depict deities situated within specific temples in Tamil Nadu, including important pilgrimage sites such as Madurai’s Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple, Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameswaram and Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam. The comparison of images from each album reveals remarkable consistency in style as well as content. The depiction in each album of the Rock at Tiruchchirapalli, for example, complete with its temples and fort, is very similar (figs 8 & 9). A similar viewpoint is used in each composition which carefully documents the colonnades at the base of the rock and the landform of the rock itself, its contours rendered in naturalistic shading. Also clearly shown in each painting is the Uchchipillaiyar shrine dedicated to Ganesh at the summit of the rock and the two smaller temples sited within the brickwork of the fort, dedicated to Tayumanavar, a form of Shiva, and his consort Sughanda Kuntalambal. Apart from differences in the extent and details of the built structures, and the lighter palette of the BM album, the only difference between each depiction is the flag flying at the apex of the temple.16W. Francis, Madras District Gazetteers, Vizagapatam, Superintendent, Government Press, Madras, 1907, p. 340, records: ‘Close by it [Uchchipillaiyar shrine] is a flagstaff, where the British flag used to fly during the military occupation of the rock’. The British flag is shown in the BM painting and an unidentified flag is shown in the NGV image.
The consistent style of both albums continues in the depictions of gods and goddesses and their incarnations and other subjects. Even unusual iconography, such as the image of Varaha, an avatar of Vishnu emerging from a hillock, is found in both examples.17The unusual iconography is noted in Dallapiccola, p. 119, fig. 7.62. This consistency suggests prototype sets of images, as yet unidentified, were used by individual painters, or that the artists, who were probably employed in family workshops, worked in a ‘house style’. Although very similar, the paintings in each album are clearly executed by different artists. The painting of the BM album is noticeably sketchier than that of the NGV album, with looser cross-hatching, less detail in the depiction of fabric patterns and jewellery, and a lighter palette.
‘The fatal power of idolatry’: missionaries and deity art
From the early sixteenth century European missionaries collected sets of South Indian paintings. Initially Portuguese and French Catholic missions and, later, English and American Protestant missions were established in South India, including by the 1850s ‘the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the London Missionary Society, the Church Missionary Society, the Wesleyan Missionary Society, the Church of Scotland, the American Board, and the Free Church of Scotland’.18
Newcomb, p. 535. The NGV album is associated with the Protestant missionary movement, as the inscription inside the album reveals it was a gift from one missionary to another: ‘Rev.G.Gogerly/ with afft’n regards/ H.R. Hoisington/ Calcutta Oct.4th/39’.
Reverend George Gogerly (1794–1877) initially trained as a printer in London. After attending the London Missionary Society’s Gosport Academy, he went to Calcutta and remained there until 1842.19Church Missionary Society, Missionary Register, vol. 11, London, 1823, p. 38, lists Gogerly as a printer working for the London Missionary Society in Bengal in 1816. In an article published in 1847 he recalls his experience of the procession of the Jagannatha trinity in Puri, Orissa. The annual procession in which elaborately dressed images of the trinity comprising Jagannatha, a form of Krishna, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are pulled through the town in enormous carriages, attracts huge crowds of devotees. From Gogerly’s article it appears his views on Hindu beliefs and observances concur with the majority of his Protestant missionary contemporaries:
How affecting the comparative apathy with which the followers of the pure and holy Jesus have so long regarded the abominations and pollutions of idolatry, so openly practised and so perseveringly upheld in India! 20
Rev. George Gogerly, ‘Juggernath’, in The Christian Keepsake and Missionary Manual for MDCCCXLVII, Boston, 1847, p. 94.
He describes the pilgrims’
vain hope of obtaining salvation by beholding this unsightly image, so impiously designated the ‘Lord of the World’ [… and] the fatal power of idolatry to debase and destroy all that distinguishes the human faculties from mere animal feeling.21ibid., p. 98.
The path to conversion: the NGV album in context
Protestant missionaries in India considered Hinduism polytheistic and idolatrous, and believed their duty was to convert Hindu devotees to the Christian faith. They regarded images of various Hindu gods as reinforcing idolatrous beliefs and considered the path to conversion lay in the spread of the word of God through prayer and text. Accordingly they established schools to promote literacy through vast tracts of printed material produced by many missions. As Gogerly stated:
Send them [Hindus] the gospel – send them missionaries, that, instructed in the word of God, they may, by the Divine blessing, be delivered from the cruel and polluting infatuations of idolatry, and rescued from the power of the destroyer.22ibid., p. 102.
Gogerly received the album from Reverend Henry Richard Hoisington (1801–1858), an American Presbyterian missionary serving in Vattukottai, Sri Lanka, from 1833 to 1844. Originally from Cayuga County in upper New York State, he was sponsored by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, first as a missionary and English instructor at Batticotta Seminary from 1833 and then as principal of the seminary from 1836 to 1841.23‘Batticotta’ is probably an Anglicised rendering of ‘Vattukottai’. The Batticotta seminary, located in Vattukottai, on the Jaffna Peninsula in north Sri Lanka, was established in 1823 and closed in 1855, before re-opening under the name of Jaffna College in 1867. Hoisington is also known for his translation of Tamil Shaivite texts into English. In 1854 his translations from the Tamil language of several core texts of the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta school were published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society.24
Siva-Gnâna-Pōtham, ‘Instruction in the knowledge of God. A metaphysical and theological treatise into English’; Siva-Pirakâsam, ‘Light of Sivan. A metaphysical and theological treatise’; and ‘Tattuva-Kat.t.al.ei, law of the Tattuvam. A synopsis of the mystical philosophy of the Hindûs’, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 4, 1853, pp. 31, 33–102. Hoisington saw the role of missionaries in Ceylon and India in part ‘to unweave the sophistry of these heathen dreamers, to match principles against figments, to hand these fine spun theories over to absurdities’.25Hoisington, ‘Annual Report, 1841’, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Boston, 1841, p. 141.
It is not known when Gogerly and Hoisington met or why Hoisington gave the album to Gogerly. We know that missionaries collected paintings of deities and depictions of deities in other media for use as gifts, illustrating the exotic curiosities of far-off lands in which missionaries lived and worked, or as depictions of ‘Hindoo idols’, thus demonstrating the urgent need for saving souls lost to idolatry. Images of deities painted on paper, whether on loose leaves or bound in albums, were some of the most portable evidence of ‘heathen beliefs’ and, as such, were called into use at functions held in the missionaries’ home countries to raise support and funds. At a farewell event for missionaries held at Flinders Street Baptist Church in Adelaide in 1885, Kalighat paintings produced as inexpensive pilgrim souvenirs at the Kalighat temple in Calcutta were displayed on the walls in a salon-style massed arrangement.26See Kate Brittlebank, ‘Anthropology, fine art and missionaries: The Berndt Kalighat album rediscovered’, Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 20, no. 1, n. xxii, 2008, p. 136. They were intended to highlight the strangeness and multiplicity of the ‘idols’ worshipped in India and thus illustrate the grave need for missionary activity. Gogerly was also called upon after his retirement to promote the cause of missionary work:
The directors of the London Missionary Society have frequently solicited his [Gogerly’s] aid to plead the cause of missions, he being an able and talented man while, as to his lectures on British India, several applications have been made to him to deliver them at towns in the neighbourhood.27John H. Taylor, Transaction of the Congregational Historical Society, vol. 20, 1965–70, p. 283.
Even though it is probable that the images in the NGV album were already bound into book form when received by Gogerly, he may have the used the album itself to illustrate his presentations. Gogerly remained in India for three years after Hoisington gave him the album and may have used it to enhance his familiarity with various Hindu deities. As Brittlebank has illustrated, there was debate within the missionary world about the need to understand Hindu beliefs. Some considered it unnecessary, while others felt it was useful to have a little knowledge in order to successfully answer questions about, and rebuff challenges to, Christian beliefs, for ‘without a knowledge of our opponents [sic] standing we can hardly dislodge him’.28Brittlebank, pp. 136–7.
It is difficult to believe that all of the missionaries returned to their homelands without some regard and affection for India, if not for Hindu beliefs and practices. Many missionaries, including Gogerly and Hoisington, spent considerable periods of time in the subcontinent and learnt local languages, enabling them to engage with the people they sought to convert and to gain some understanding of their lives. In addition, while Hoisington’s studies and translations of Shaivite texts may not have altered his conviction of the authority of the Christian faith, they must have stimulated his intellectual curiosity. It is possible that the gift of the album simply reflected a wish on Hoisington’s part to introduce Gogerly to the art of South India, an area with which Gogerly, who was based in Bengal, may not have been familiar.
The NGV album illustrates the particular appeal collections of deity images held for foreign collectors. Their fascination lay in combining the allure of the exotic and ‘peculiar’ with the satisfaction of ordering those qualities within a framework. For European collectors iconographic details like mudra, postures, costumes, and physiognomies of the gods are recorded as visual clues, providing a means to categorise the unfamiliar. In so doing, order was imposed on seemingly random, incomprehensible images. For missionaries the knowledge thus accrued could be used to contest idolatry and undermine the authority of the Brahmins. Ironically, the same documentary details that missionaries utilised were codified in Hindu iconographic texts like the Shilpa Shastras, which laid down detailed guidelines for the depiction of religious images, ensuring the iconography of each deity was an embodiment of Hindu narrative and philosophical underpinnings and, through consistent iconography, facilitating worship. Whereas to European eyes the appearance of the images was an end in itself, and the differences between each form of Vishnu, Shiva and the Goddess confirmed the claim of idolatry, to the Hindu devotee each separate form exhibited ‘through a multitude of mutually antagonistic attitudes and activities, such an ambivalent, self-contradictory, enigmatic character as would render [them] fit to represent in personalised form[s] the paradoxical, all-comprehending nature of the Absolute’.29
Heinrich Zimmer, Joseph Campbell (ed.), Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilisation, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1992, p. 124.
Thus collections of deity images served two conflicting purposes, one for devotees and another for missionaries. First, the images served as a focus for worship, a portal for the experience of god, ‘a medium through which the seer and seen come into contact, and, in a sense, blend and mix’.30
Lawrence A. Babb, quoted in Pinney, p. 9. The images helped the devotee to achieve a personal experience of their god, which was also the goal of Protestant worship. Second, in the eyes of Protestant missionaries, the same images promoted idolatry – preventing personal experience of the Christian God by substituting an ‘idol’. Paradoxically, one of the missionaries’ main methods of disseminating the word of God was through printed texts produced in India on European presses; and advances in European printing technology, particularly the invention of chromolithography around 1866, allowed mass production of inexpensive images of deities, resulting in their dissemination to Hindu devotees on an enormous scale within two decades from the era of the NGV album.
Carol Cains, Curator, Asian Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2011).
1 Christopher Pinney, Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India, Reaktion, London, 2004, p. 8.
3 The watermarks are ‘I RUMP 1830’ and ‘J Rump 1833’. James Rump was an English papermaker at Swanton Morley Mill in Norfolk between 1811 and 1840. I RUMP remains unidentified. I am grateful to Ian Dye for this information. The book is made up of two types of paper, a laid paper (thin, with chain lines and inscribed in ink and pencil with the name of the deity opposite in English and Tamil) alternated with English wove paper (heavier, with watermarks and illustrations). The wove paper sheets were folded in half to form bi-folios and sewn in the middle. The laid paper is inserted in the very middle of each bi-folio. From this construction with two illustrations painted on one sheet of paper which is later folded, we can surmise that the illustrations were made with the purpose of binding them in a book format rather than painted on separate sheets, which could also be intended for use unbound. I am grateful to Elisabetta Polidori, paper conservator, NGV, for this analysis.
4 This dating and attribution is discussed in Thomas Lawton & Thomas W. Lentz, Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 1998, pp.196–7.
5 See Mildred Archer, Company Paintings: Indian Paintings of the British Period, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1992, p. 21.
6 See Reverend Harvey Newcomb, Cyclopedia of Missions; Containing a Comprehensive View of Missionary Operations throughout the World; with Geographical Descriptions, and Accounts of the Social, Moral, and Religious Condition of the People, Scribner, New York, 1854, p. 535.
7 Frank E. Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1959, p. 48.
8 These four sets are listed in Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, n. 81, p. 301; n. 9, p. 305.
9 ibid., n. 81, p. 301.
10 This attribution is discussed in depth in Anna L. Dallapiccola, South Indian Paintings: A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection, British Museum, London, 2010, pp. 19–22.
11 ibid., p. 20.
12 A connection has been noted between a type of Kalighat-style painting and painted wooden deity figures from Calcutta, both made as pilgrim souvenirs by sutradhar carpenters (see Jyotindra Jain, Kalighat Painting: Images from a Changing World, Mapin, Ahmedabad, 1999, chap. 2, and pp. 176–85).
13 Barbara Rossi, From the Ocean of Paintings: India’s Popular Paintings, A.D. 1589 to the Present, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998, p. 82; see also n. 46, p. 237.
14 The last three works are illustrated in Dallapiccola, fig. 7.27; Rossi, fig. 33; C. Sivaramamurti, South Indian Paintings, National Museum, New Delhi, 1968, fig. 105.
15 See Dallapiccola, p. 100. The album is identified as ‘Asia 1992, 0410, 0.1–70’.
16 W. Francis, Madras District Gazetteers, Vizagapatam, Superintendent, Government Press, Madras, 1907, p. 340, records: ‘Close by it [Uchchipillaiyar shrine] is a flagstaff, where the British flag used to fly during the military occupation of the rock’. The British flag is shown in the BM painting and an unidentified flag is shown in the NGV image.
17 The unusual iconography is noted in Dallapiccola, p. 119, fig. 7.62.
18 Newcomb, p. 535.
19 Church Missionary Society, Missionary Register, vol. 11, London, 1823, p. 38, lists Gogerly as a printer working for the London Missionary Society in Bengal in 1816.
20 Rev. George Gogerly, ‘Juggernath’, in The Christian Keepsake and Missionary Manual for MDCCCXLVII, Boston, 1847, p. 94.
21 ibid., p. 98.
22 ibid., p. 102.
23 ‘Batticotta’ is probably an Anglicised rendering of ‘Vattukottai’. The Batticotta seminary, located in Vattukottai, on the Jaffna Peninsula in north Sri Lanka, was established in 1823 and closed in 1855, before re-opening under the name of Jaffna College in 1867.
24 Siva-Gnâna-Pōtham, ‘Instruction in the knowledge of God. A metaphysical and theological treatise into English’; Siva-Pirakâsam, ‘Light of Sivan. A metaphysical and theological treatise’; and ‘Tattuva-Kat.t.al.ei, law of the Tattuvam. A synopsis of the mystical philosophy of the Hindûs’, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 4, 1853, pp. 31, 33–102.
25 Hoisington, ‘Annual Report, 1841’, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Boston, 1841, p. 141.
26 See Kate Brittlebank, ‘Anthropology, fine art and missionaries: The Berndt Kalighat album rediscovered’, Journal of the History
of Collections, vol. 20, no. 1, n. xxii, 2008, p. 136.
27 John H. Taylor, Transaction of the Congregational Historical Society, vol. 20, 1965–70, p. 283.
28 Brittlebank, pp. 136–7.
29 Heinrich Zimmer, Joseph Campbell (ed.), Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilisation, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1992, p. 124.
30 Lawrence A. Babb, quoted in Pinney, p. 9.