Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Photograph - The Great Arch and the iron Pillar, Delhi
  • The Great Arch and the iron Pillar, Delhi
    Bourne, Samuel, born 1834 - died 1912
  • Enlarge image

The Great Arch and the iron Pillar, Delhi

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Delhi (photographed)

  • Date:

    1860s (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bourne, Samuel, born 1834 - died 1912 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

  • Museum number:

    53221

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This photograph shows the screen of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. The screen, which is often referred to as the ‘Great Arch', is 6.7 metres wide and 16 metres high. An inscription on the central arch states that it was built in 1199 by Qutbuddin Aibak.

It was one of the first Islamic monuments to be built by Hindu craftsmen in India. The craftsmen used the traditional method of laying blocks of stone horizontally and rounding the sides of individual stones to create the curve of the arch. The screen was ornately decorated with carved calligraphy and repeating scroll-like designs.

The pillar on the left is made of pure iron. It is 7.2 metres high (93 cm of which is below ground) and was brought to this spot from elsewhere. It carries a Sanskrit inscription which records that it was erected by King Chandra, a devotee of the god Vishnu. The king has now been identified as Chandragupta II (AD 375-413) and the pillar is dated to the 4th century.

The British photographer Samuel Bourne lived and worked in India between 1862 and 1869. During this time he toured the Himalayas and travelled through the subcontinent, photographing its landscape, architecture and historical sites. He set up a studio in Simla with Charles Shepherd and sold his prints sold to an eager public both in India and Britain.

Physical description

This photograph shows the screen of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. The screen is often referred to as the ‘Great Arch’. An inscription on the central arch states that it was built in 1199 by Qutbuddin Aibak. The central arch is 6.7 meters wide and 16 meters high and is an ogee or s-shaped corbelled arch. Two Indian men stand beneath the arch to give a sense of scale.

In the foreground, to the left, is an iron pillar. A sanskrit inscription on the pillar records that it was erected by King Chandra, a devotee of god Vishnu. The king has now been identified as Chandragupta II (AD 375-413). The pillar is dated to the 4th century and was bought to this spot from elsewhere. It is 7.2 meters in height (93cm below ground) and is made of pure iron.

Place of Origin

Delhi (photographed)

Date

1860s (photographed)

Artist/maker

Bourne, Samuel, born 1834 - died 1912 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

Marks and inscriptions

Signature and negative number in the bottom right hand side.

Dimensions

Width: 30 cm photograph, Height: 23 cm photograph, Width: 33 cm mount, Height: 27 cm mount

Object history note

The photograph was initially part of the photographic collection held in the National Art Library. The markings on the mount are an indication of the history of the object, its movement through the museum and the way in which it is categorised.
The Mount is white with handwritten text acorss the top: Architecture, ect, India, IIbd.
On the right hand side is a label: A.in. Delhi
Bottom left: Label from Bourne catalogue with 'Delhi' handwritten next to it.
On the back: handwritten note giving Bourne's catalogue number and 'Borrowed 29/4/70'

Historical context note

This photograph shows the screen of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. The screen is often referred to as the ‘Great Arch’. An inscription on the central arch states that it was built in 1199 by Qutbuddin Aibak. The central arch is 6.7 meters wide and 16 meters high and is an ogee or s-shaped corbelled arch. Two Indian men stand beneath the arch to give a sense of scale.

This was one of the first Islamic monuments to be built by Hindu craftsmen in India and at this stage the craftsmen were still learning how to build a true arch using voussoirs (wedge shaped blocks of stone). Instead, and in keeping with their known methods, they laid blocks of stone horizontally and rounded the sides of individual stones to create the curve of the arch. The screen was ornately decorated with carved calligraphy and repeating scroll-like designs. Some of the calligraphic strokes have small floral bursts at the ends, this being a quirky addition by the Hindu artisans unused to calligraphic forms.

In a drawing by the architectural historian, James Fergusson, dated to between 1835-42, the top of the great arch is damaged and this, as Fergusson claims was probably due to the uncertainty involved in the method of building. This photograph taken in the 1860s shows that the arch had subsequently been repaired.

In the foreground, to the left, is an iron pillar. A sanskrit inscription on the pillar records that it was erected by King Chandra, a devotee of god Vishnu. The king has now been identified as Chandragupta II (AD 375-413). The pillar is dated to the 4th century and was bought to this spot from elsewhere. It is 7.2 meters in height (93cm below ground) and is made of pure iron.

Bourne took this photograph on his journey through India during the 1860s. In the published account of his journey, on his first encounter with Delhi on June 25th 1863 he wrote: ‘Of course Delhi can’t fail to be interesting to the photographer: the Cashmere Gate, the fort, and other noted places must be taken, while its mosques and similar buildings will be photographed for their own merits. About eleven miles from Delhi is the famous Kootub, of which many of my readers have seen Beato’s large photograph, published by Hering, of Regent Street.’

Bourne, S, Photography in the East, The British Journal of Photography, September 1 1863, pg 345.

Descriptive line

Photograph of the Great Arch in the Qutb Minar complex, Delhi, India, by Samuel Bourne, 1860s.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bourne, S, Photography in the East, The British Journal of Photography, September 1 1863, pg 345.

Production Note

Bourne visited Delhi in 1863, as mentioned in his writings. He is also likely to have made subsequent visits in 1864 and 1866 though this is not recorded in his writings.This print would have been made before March 1867.

Techniques

Wet collodion process

Subjects depicted

Mosque

Categories

Photographs; Architecture; Islam; Religion

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.