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Imaging Empire : the trafficking of art and aesthetics in British India c.1772 to c.1795

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  • N Visual Arts (General) For Photography
  • See Tr
  • Design
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


This dissertation explores the complex entanglements of an artistic traffic between two distinct 'visual economies' in eastern India, c.1772-c.1795. Both late Mughal and early colonial cultures were undergoing transformation, to the extent that during this era the nascent colonial artistic diaspora collapsed. Three inter-related areas will be interrogated: the prestation and commercial circulation of imagery between London, Calcutta and Murshidabad, the dichotomies of political and aesthetic spheres, and colonial representations of late Mughal culture as embroiled by such frameworks. Chapter one examines India-painted subjects in a metropolitan aesthetic sphere, thus acting as crucial juxtaposition for the refiguration of British art in Calcutta, which is the subject of the following section. Hastings' regime wielded British art as part of an intensely spectacular colonial governmentality, but his successor Cornwallis, took a tougher line with devastating effect. A diversity of competing, derivative idioms ousted professional colonial painting forever; its artistic schema penetrated to 'grass-roots' level through the creation of a 'Company School' which transposed the practice of the patua caste. Chapters five to seven investigate nawabi perceptions of British imagery. Hastings introduced the gifting of large-scale portraits; artefacts ill-suited to Indian interiors and aesthetic interiority - perhaps not even viewed as 'art'. The final chapter, through representations of the nawabs of Murshidabad and Lucknow, traces the evolution of British pictures as accoutrements of Mughal sovereignty. By 1795 both courts possessed permanent if 'hybrid' expositions of colonial imagery which transgressed established Indian and British classifications, as well as indicating more profound redefinitions of Indian comportment, consumption and taste. The intersection of 'visual economies' by way of an exploration of diverse zones of transculturation and processes of translation, provides a vital lens for recovering Indian and British agency - both elite and subaltern, in the oft-uneasy formation of a colonial aesthetic forum.

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