1790 - 1808

Magnificent Heritage of India as Seen by the Daniells

Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata

 In the second half of the eighteenth century, a number of amateur and professional European artists visited India and recorded Indian life, architecture, costumes and landscapes. Until then people in England had no visual image of India based on artists first-hand observations. Of the great European artists working on the Indian sub-continent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Daniells, Thomas (1749-1840) and his nephew William (1769-1837) were perhaps the most outstanding. 

Thomas and William Daniell
Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) and his nephew William Daniell (1769-1837)  played a prominent role in documenting the landscapes, building and peoples of the country. Their seven years tour of India from 1786 to 1793 and the subsequent publication of their work bought to the British public an unrivalled view of the scenes and architecture of this beautiful land. They set out from England in 1786 to make their fortune in India and in their six years stay ventured further than any British artist had done earlier. they took three tours across India: up the Ganga from Calcutta to Srinagar, 1788-91, a circular tour around Mysore from Madras, 1792-93, and finally on their return journey to England in 1793 visiting Bombay and its sites, sketching and drawing as they travelled. [Image: From the picture by Robert Home in the collection of the Asiatic society of Bengal.]
The Daniells sketching
Arriving back in London in 1794 the Daniells turned the substantial number of on-site sketches into finished water colours and oil paintings. From 1795 to 1808 they concentrated  on producing aquatint prints for their views of india, a work they titled Oriental Scenery. The work was published in six volumes and comprised a total of 144 coloured aquatints and six uncoloured titled-pages. It was an artistic and commercial success. The cost of the complete set was Sterling 210. Thirty sets were sold to the East India Company, and a further order for eighteen copies was received. Thomas Sutton quotes a glowing tribute to the artistic work of the Daniells in an extract from The Calcutta Monthly Magazine. "the execution of these drawings is indeed masterly; there is every reason to confide in the fidelity of the representations; and the effect produced by this rich and splendid display of oriental scenery is truly striking. In looking at it, one may almost feel the warmth of an Indian sky, the water seems to be in actual motion and the animals, trees and plants are studies for the naturalist". Forty aquatints showing showing heritage buildings and sites of India are displayed in this exhibition. These are from Daniells Oriental Scenery in the collection of Victoria Memorial Hall. This will give visitors an idea of the appearance of these heritage buildings and sites in the eighteenth century. They will also be able to tell how much we have succeeded in preserving the tangible Heritage the Daniells illustrated. The Daniells sketching near Bugwanpoor, situated near Narianpore in Mirzapur district, Uttar Pradesh, about eight miles north east of Roorkee and was reached by the Daniells on the 27th January 1790.

The Black Pagoda, a Shiva temple built in north Calcutta around 1730 by the wealthy merchant Govinda Ram Mitter, was perhaps never completely finished. The main tower collapsed some time around 1800, and only one of the smaller subsidiary shrines survives. The aquatint reproduces a scene set in the Chitpore Bazaar, with water buffalo swimming in the tank and huts with characteristic Bengali curved eaves. The tank is for the ritual ablutions.

The road to Cheringhee is situated on the east side of the Esplanade. By the end of eighteenth century, Calcutta was developing rapidly with beautiful public buildings and grand houses. Though the area was known as British residential area the land was normally owned and the houses are constructed by Bengali merchants.

Gour, has been the capital of Bengal, here the adjoining wall appears as an abandoned city, with a dispersed scene and jungle covered with thick grown plants and weeds. A wild pig running from the tall grass in the foreground interrupts an eerie silence.

The Tantipara Masjid at Gour, as it stands in the current day.

This is from the fifth set of Thomas & William Daniells ‘Oriental Scenery’ known as ‘Antiquities of India’. This tower was built by Saifuddin Firuz from brick and granite and decorated with terracotta panels.

In Bhagalpur district, here the river runs past a stone cliff. Opposite to its stands the Fakir's rock of granite. That the site fascinated the Daniells is borne out by the fact that there are plates 9 & 10 in Oriental Scenery album V.

A large evergreen Banyan tree with aerial roots hanging from its branches, is the most sacred place for the pilgrims to make offerings to the spirit of the ancestors. A small shrine with curved stone slabs with figures of Shiva and Ganesha are situated near the tree.

The palace of Raja Man Singh of Amber is one of the remarkable example of Mughal architecture, with corbelled brackets, small balconies.

Another sacred place on the river soane, with neighbouring hills, with other temples establish the aspects of picturesque. Agouree is a place of praying, with a large Banyan tree in front. The 18th century temples depicted by Daniell is slightly conceptual in North India.

Ramnagur fort, about three miles from Bernares, with a massive support was built by Rajah Bulwunt Singh (1739-1770).

The Daniells in the descriptive text that accompanied the Oriental Scenery, wrote: The gauts at Bernares are the most considerable of any on the Ganges.... An opinion prevails amongst them, that drawing their last breath at cossi is a circumstance much in favour of their employment of future happiness.

Bernares, with its abundantly buoyant and startlingly radiant riverside attracted many artists to paint it includes Hodges, Daniell etc. This is one of the most sacred place in India. A popular belief convinced among the Hindus, that if the dying breath is in this holy city, then there is a future contentment in life.

This mosque was built in the reign of Sultan Hussain Sharqi, one of the premier example of Mahomedan architecture. Juanpore is forty-two miles north west of Bernares.

The Ranee, originally a Hindoo princess, while married to a Mahomedan prince, was known as Shah begum. She was a Rajput princess who killed herself in 1605, unable to bear the shame of her son’s revolt. This Mausoleum is in a large garden, near Allahabad with a simplicity in plan and a three-storeyed constructed with horizontal beams and without arches, decorated with sandstone and a large fountain nearby creates a conceptual Mahomedan architecture.

The entrance gate to Loll Bhaug at Fyzabad made by Sujah-al-Dowla. Here the gate is gracefully designed in highest manner. This was of late Mughal style architecture with plenty of small arches and balconies with curved roofs. Fyzabad is eighty-five miles east of Lucknow.

Part of the palace of Nawab Suja-ud-Dowla is seen on the left, the mosque appears highly elevated, and the new palace of the Nawab Asoph-ud-Dowla is seen along the waters’ edge. The Daniells stayed at Lucknow with Claude Martin who introduced them to the Nawab. The Nawab was pleased with their ‘Views of Calcutta’ and commissioned them for a set of views on Lucknow which the Daniells reportedly undertook but finally the Nawab was displeased with the result. The drawings were later utilized for the aquatints on Lucknow.

This Coloured Aquatint was drawn and engraved by Thomas & William Daniell dated 1801 which was considered as the principal Mahomedan architecture in India. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jehan, as a mausoleum for his dearest wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1629. Today this is one of the highest celebrated & visited place in India.

Here in the river view of the Taj Mahal, Daniells play with the unaffected lighting initiating brilliant sunshine to the north facade.

View of Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh, as it stands now, in the 21st Century.

The Taj Mahal inner complex as it stands in the 21st Century.

Brindabund was a place of pilgrimage even in those days and Thomas Daniells were most markedly impressed by these 'beautiful and singular pagodas' whom they have described as most elegant sculptured. An oil painting on the same scene, was painted by Thomas as his diploma picture for the Royal Academy where it still hangs. Later Humphrey Repton used this aquatint in his design of 1806 for an aviary for the Royal pavilion at Brighton in U.K.

One of the ancient city among the seven holy cities of Hinduism, also known as Mathura (popularly known as the birth-place of Krishna). This view was taken from a garden on the opposite side of the river Jumna, with an imposing pavilion achieved in modern Mahomedan style. In the centre, the fort of Mutura and to the left the Jami Masjid with four minarets.

One of the largest mosque and the Principal religious monument in India was erected by the Emperor Shah Jehan in 1650. It stands on high platform on a rock with three colossal gateways. The entrance and the walls are made of red stone and are surmounted by marble domed pavilions. Several figures seen are the commandants with attendants of the fort.

How the Jama Masjid looks from the inside now.

Also known as Jantar-Mantar, was built around 1724, and was built by Maharaja Savai Jai Singh II of Jaipur on instructions from the mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shah, to reform the Hindu calendar. Here the main instrument represented, the Samrat-Yantra, a Sundial probably fascinated by the artist for the difference and the extreme scale of such celestial tool.

Qutb-ud-Din Aibak, in 1199 laid its foundation but he could not finish it and the upper storeys were added by his successor Iltutmish. In 1803, an earthquake shattered the top seen here and it was replaced by Col. Robert Smith who was also was an accomplished amateur artist of considerable excellence. In 1848, however, his finial was taken down amidst controversy of its acceptibility and the Cuttub is now without its top.

The Qutub Minar complex in the 21st Century.

This mosque at Pillibeat was established by the Afghan Rohilla leader Hafiz Rahmut Khan. During the battle with the Nawab of Awadh, assisted by the English, he lost his life, in 1774. The gateway is built in late Mughal style, while the walls around the mosque richly ornamented.

This was from Garhwal district and creates a magnificent view of distant mountains, probably impressed by Thomas Daniell for the first time.

This is from the second set of Daniells ‘Oriental Scenery’ , where a large granite rock rising from the bank of Cauvery river. Its natural strength is raised by a great fortress.

The Temple of Tiruchchirapally was built on the west part of the rock by the Nayaka ruler of Madurai in 1660s. It contains within the high walls appeared like a fortress and the temple compound contains a Shiva linga.

This stone pavilion is made by Raja Tremal Naig, which is situated on the east side of the fort of Madura, for the purpose of viewing religious processions and ceremonies. It is erected of stone and ascended by ongoing steps. In the distance part of palace and other buildings in the fort of Madura visible.

Here the interior view of the palace at Madura with ornamental pointed arches supported with two rows of columns was the King’s hall to address spectators. This is a stone structure, not in level with several parts still outstanding with interior surface covered with lime or plaster and thoroughly painted with different colours. Two men approaching the group of figures at left and with some domestic cattle also observed at the back of the building.

This was a unique Choultry made by Tirumala Naik in 1635 as a reception hall for pilgrims, which in a form of a parallelogram with 312 x 125 feet in length and width, consists of a large hall with the ceiling of which is supported by six range of columns made from single stone and grey granite. The platform on pillars carved with mythical creatures and portrait sculptures of Nayaka rulers. On the second pillar to the right hand is the statue of the rajah with three of his wives and twelve signs of zodiac is noticed in the ceiling.

This is on the river Tumrabunni, a considerable stream in the district of Tinnevelly. A few miles below the falls, that river passes the fort of Palamcotta, and thence proceeds in an easterly course towards the sea, into which it is received in the Gulph of Manapar.

This is one of the greatest architectural achievements in south India and impressive in the Tanjore supremacy, the Brihadeshwara Temple. The temple is situated in the middle of the vast rectangular court and is entered on the east side through two gateways. The tower of the main shrine is sixty meter high and encrusted with delicate sculpture.

The Brihadeshwara Temple site in the 21st century.

Mavalipuram is situated on the coast of south of Madras (Chennai) is popular for the early group of temples and the Monolithic sculptures from Pallava dynasty in the 7-8 centuries AD, when the site was a port. The ‘Pancha Ratha’ (Five vehicles) form a group of five temple monoliths carved out of granite to resemble chariots. Next to shrine are large stone block of lion, elephant, the ‘vahana’ or the vehicles of gods.

Mahabalipuram site (as it is now known) in the 21st century.

This is from the fifth set of Thomas & William Daniell’s ‘Oriental Scenery’ known as ‘Antiquities of India’. This is a famous 6th century Hindu cave temple in Elephanta with Trimurti (Triple-headed bust representing the three aspects of Shiva).

The complex of the Elephanta caves in the 21st Century.

The outer complex of the Elephanta caves in the 21st Century.

This is from the fifth set of Thomas & William Daniell’s ‘Oriental Scenery’ known as ‘Antiquities of India’. The entrance to the Kanheri caves, a group of rock-cut monuments on the left, a large sculpture of Buddha situated on the centre.

This is engraved by Thomas Daniell after the drawing of James Wales which forms the sixth set of ‘Oriental Scenery’ is one of the several breathtaking sites of Ellora, famous for its series of cave temples excavated from the front of rocky mountain

This is engraved by Thomas Daniell after the drawing of James Wales. The monolithic shrine, with a pyramidal superstructure topped by an octagonal roof, stands in the middle of the inner court of Indra Sabha cave, in the Kailasa Temple complex at Ellora, and a free standing elephant, and a column with Jain figures seated on top.

Indra Sabha cave, in the Kailasa Temple complex at Ellora,in the 21st Century.

This is engraved by Thomas Daniell after the drawing of James Wales numbered fifteenth plate. Here the view from the above reveals the amazing compound of Kailasanatha temple. The temple is like a independent stone block which lies in the middle of a huge pit surrounded by a deep trench excavated into the hill.

This is engraved by Thomas Daniell after the drawing of James Wales, numbered sixteenth plate. Here the view in two parts, from the above reveals the amazing compound of Kailasanatha temple

Victoria Memorial Hall
Credits: Story

21st Century site imagery courtesy Archaeological Survey of India.

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