Bronze model depicting the cavalcade of the King of Awadh

On display

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    This unusually ambitious royal procession scene is both a masterpiece fo folk bronze-casting and an eloquent commentary on the meeting of Indian and European cultures in the post-Mughal period. Riding in one of the elephant howdahs is the King of Oudh, probably Ghāzī ud-Dīn Haidar (r.1814-27), wearing a tall pointed crown, with his chief minister beside him. In the adjacent howdah sit the British Resident at Lucknow, wearing a crescent-shaped chapeau-bras, and his assistant in shovel hat. They are accompanied by the two mahouts with elephant goads and an attendant (another is missing from the King’s howdah), with an escort of eight sāwars (horsemen) riding in front and behind them and twelve sipāhīs (sepoys, or foot-soldiers) in two lines flanking the group. The latter are dressed in the uniform of the East India Company’s army or an Oudh version of it.

    The Nawab Wazirs of Oudh (or Avadh), who were of Persian origin, had risen to prominence at the Mughal court of Delhi before establishing themselves in the mid-18th century as virtually autonomous rulers with their capital at Lucknow. Here they indulged in ostentatious display and lavish artistic patronage in the traditional Mughal manner. A number of Europeans were attracted to their court, including the painters Zoffany and Tilly Kettle in the 1770s and ‘80s. As the East India Company strengthened its control over northern India and the Nawabs became virtual puppets, the European taste in architecture and decoration was increasingly emulated at Lucknow, with florid and fantastic results. Ghāzī ud-Dīn, who had assumed the title of King bestowed on him by George III in 1819, encouraged this exuberant eclecticism. He appointed as his court artist the Scottish painter Robert Home, who produced not only pictures but countless designs for the monarch’s royal trappings, including crowns, regalia, costumes, uniforms, carriages and exotically shaped thrones and boats; Ghāzī ud-Dīn’s favourite crown was the spiky, Christmas-cracker model seen here.

    According to the protocol agreed under the 1819 treaty, the British Resident and the King were to be treated as equals on ceremonial occasions. Here the two ride side by side in procession, the swaying motion of their elephants suggested by the tilt of the howdahs. All of the figures are modelled in an individual and animated manner. Those in the howdahs turn towards each other in conversation. Two of the leading horses rear dramatically on their hind-legs.The sepoys march in less than perfect drill order, gazing this way and that. The raffish pomp of the occasion is well caught. It is likely that the complex composition follows a European design and is the work of a craftsman trained in producing religious images and toy figures.

    In: Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987)

Further reading

Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 75 on pp. 67-68, illus. p. 67

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