The Central Tower of the Great Pagoda

Photograph
March 1858-April 1858 (photographed), 1860 (published)
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Linnaeus Tripe (1822–1902) documented much of south India as official photographer to the Madras government (1856–1860). This photograph is part of the album he produced of Tanjore, or Thanjavur. This shows the tallest vimana (sanctuary) in India. It is 62 m high. The Brihadisvara temple was built by the Chola king Rajaraja I, and finished in 1000 AD. Text accompanying the photograph states, with reference to the sculptures that adorn all parts of the buildings, ‘It is a pleasing thing to be able to say after the minutest inspection of the temple in every accessible part, that none of its sculptures, as far as I am aware, are calculated to to [sic] shock the feelings of the most modest…’


object details
Category
Object Type
Brief Description
Photograph, No. XI 'The Central Tower of the Great Pagoda', from the photograph album by Capt. Linnaeus Tripe, 'Photographic Views in Tanjore and Trivady'; South India, 1858
Physical Description
This black and white photograph shows a large sanctuary in the centre of the image, with a pillared structure on the right containing a sculpture of a bull within. The steps are striped. There are trees on the left.
Dimensions
  • Photographic print height: 247mm
  • Photographic print width: 370mm
  • Album page height: 452mm
  • Album page width: 574mm
Production typeLimited edition
Credit line
Given by Lady Denison
Object history
This photograph was given by Lady Denison in 1889 during the keepership of Caspar Purdon Clarke, Keeper of the Indian Section of the V&A. It was written off in 1937, and rediscovered and re-evaluated in the 1990s. See Dewan p.477 for listings of other copies elsewhere.

This photograph was published as plate XI of twenty-three in the album Photographic Views in Tanjore and Trivady 1858, by 'Captain L. Tripe, Government Photographer, with Descriptive Notes by the Rev. G. U. Pope', published in 1860. It was taken as part of Tripe's remit as the government photographer, which he himself defined broadly, as recording, ‘before they disappear’ buildings, sculptures and inscriptions…' including the picturesque. This was a model for an extensive survey, including tuition of others and experimentation in his own practice. He was funded by the Madras government, but intended selling additional copies of some prints so that his practice could be self-funding.



This photograph was published with the following text in the letterpress (the following is an extract):

‘This is one of the finest towers in India. Its base is a square whose side is 32 yards. The height is 92 yards; its shadow does not project beyond the base, an essential matter according to Hindo [sic] opinion in such a building. It covers the innermost shrine or adytum…in which the principal idol is placed….The circular mass at the top is said to be granite (or syenite) and various stories are told about the way in which it was raised to its present elevation. The most probably is that an included plane extending five miles from the base of the temple was built of mud, and that along this the stone was laboriously rolled to its present lofty station. There was plenty of forced labour in those days… It is a pleasing thing to be able to say after the minutest inspection of the temple in every accessible part, that none of its sculptures, as far as I am aware, are calculated to to [sic] shock the feelings of the most modest…’



Historical significance: Tripe's photographs of South India are an important body of work within Tripe's oeuvre, and are recognised as being some of the most aesthetically and technically competent images of India made in the 19th century.

Tripe entered as total of 50 photographs from his 1857–8 tour of South India in the 1859 annual exhibition of the Madras Photographic Society. The jury dubbed his photographs ‘the best in the Exhibition’ but as Tripe could not be classed an amateur, he could not win the gold medal. Tripe declined the silver medal amicably, since he considered that as an official photographer he had an unfair advantage over the other entrants.

Tripe’s photographs were valued for their informational value and their technical quality. The adjudicating committee stated that Tripe’s photographs ‘illustrate admirably the architecture of the Hindoo Temples and Places of Southern India, and in particular the Madura and Tanjore series comprise in this respect all that is most worthy of record in those cities.’ (See Dewan, p.16). Forty-six of Tripe’s 50 exhibited images were made from paper (calotype) negatives, which the committee didn't feel were as successful as dry collodion-on-glass negatives, however, declaring that ‘the superiority of definition given by Collodion [-on-glass] is very visible when placed side by side with them.’ It is thought that Tripe prefered paper to glass negatives due to paper being easier and safer to work with.
Historical context
The southern districts tour and Madras presidency photographs, 1857-58

The Madras government appointed Tripe as photographer following the 1855 directive from the Court of Directors in London, who discouraged illustration in favour of 'photography as a means by which representations may be obtained of scenes and buildings, with the advantages of perfect accuracy, small expenditure of time, and moderate cash', and asked that photography be the main means of recording architecture and antiquities (Dewan, p.6).



As official photographer to the Madras Government, Tripe set off from Bangalore on 14 December 1857 after delays due to waiting for modifications to his new English camera, and his recovery after falling from a horse. He ended his tour in Madras on 30 April 1858 after travelling via Srirangam, Tiruchchirappalli, Madurai, then Pudukkottai, Tanjore, and Tiruchchirappalli again (then called Seeringham, Trichinopoly, Madura, Poodoocottah and Tanjore).



All of these areas had been forcefully taken under British rule in the previous one hundred years, but Tripe looked for scenes or subjects with architectural or antiquarian interest rather than political significance. He had wanted to ensure his images were practical too: before he had set out he had asked the chief engineer for guidance on what would be most useful from an engineering perspective, and incorporated this input into his work.
Production
Edition number unknown. The album of which this photograph is part was one of between 37 and 40 copies to have been produced.



Attribution note: The V&A has another copy of this album (bound) in the National Art Library, pressmark 104.N. The Royal Photographic Society holds the waxed paper negative.

Reason For Production: Commission
Subjects depicted
Place Depicted
Summary
Linnaeus Tripe (1822–1902) documented much of south India as official photographer to the Madras government (1856–1860). This photograph is part of the album he produced of Tanjore, or Thanjavur. This shows the tallest vimana (sanctuary) in India. It is 62 m high. The Brihadisvara temple was built by the Chola king Rajaraja I, and finished in 1000 AD. Text accompanying the photograph states, with reference to the sculptures that adorn all parts of the buildings, ‘It is a pleasing thing to be able to say after the minutest inspection of the temple in every accessible part, that none of its sculptures, as far as I am aware, are calculated to to [sic] shock the feelings of the most modest…’
Bibliographic Reference
Dewan, Janet. The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe: A Catalogue Raisonné. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2003, p.477.
Collection
Accession Number
IS.42:12-1889

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record createdJanuary 16, 2007
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