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Photograph - Sacred cistern and water spout belonging to the Subrahmanya Temple
  • Sacred cistern and water spout belonging to the Subrahmanya Temple
    Tripe, Linnaeus, born 1822 - died 1902
  • Enlarge image

Sacred cistern and water spout belonging to the Subrahmanya Temple

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Thanjavur (photographed)

  • Date:

    March 1858-April 1858 (photographed)
    1860 (published)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Tripe, Linnaeus, born 1822 - died 1902 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Albumen print from waxed paper (calotype) negative

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Lady Denison

  • Museum number:

    IS.42:20-1889

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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, and shows a temple within the Brihadisvara temple complex. This temple is named after Subrahmanya, son of the Hindu god Shiva. The text accompanying the image states, ‘This cistern is of one piece of stone, and must have cost immense pains to work. The sculptures on its sides, and in different parts of this building are of considerable merit. They exhibit a spirit and freedom not to be found in any others in south India. When water is poured over the idol it flows into this cistern and is considered to possess a peculiar sanctity. Drinking this water is one of the most meritorious and purifying acts of the Hindu worship…’

Physical description

This black and white photograph shows a passageway in a temple complex, with a high pillared wall on the left, and a pillared building on the right, with a waterspout coming out of it. There is a water trough with animals at each base in the foreground.

Place of Origin

Thanjavur (photographed)

Date

March 1858-April 1858 (photographed)
1860 (published)

Artist/maker

Tripe, Linnaeus, born 1822 - died 1902 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print from waxed paper (calotype) negative

Dimensions

Height: 284 mm photographic print, Width: 364 mm photographic print, Height: 452 mm album page, Width: 574 mm album page

Object history note

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.485 for listings of other copies elsewhere.
This photograph was published as plate XIX 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 cistern is of one piece of stone, and must have cost immense pains to work. The sculptures on its sides, and in different parts of this building are of considerable merit. They exhibit a spirit and freedom not to be found in any others in south India.
When water is poured over the idol it flows into this cistern and is considered to possess a peculiar sanctity. Drinking this water is one of the most meritorious and purifying acts of the Hindu worship…’

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 note

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.

Descriptive line

Photograph, No. XIX 'Sacred cistern and water spout belonging to the Subrahmanya Temple', from the photograph album by Capt. Linnaeus Tripe, 'Photographic Views in Tanjore and Trivady'; South India, 1858

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

Dewan, Janet. The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe: A Catalogue Raisonné. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2003, p.485.

Production Note

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

Wall; Cistern; Pillar; Waterspout

Categories

Photographs

Production Type

Limited edition

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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