Anuradhapura- The Ruwaneli Dágoba. Alter and details of stonework at base of Dágoba on the west side.
- Place of origin:
Sri Lanka (photographed)
Lawton, Joseph (photographer)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
This photograph pictures some of the numerous remains of smaller structures and sculptural pieces which are set into the landscape surrounding the Ruwanweli Dagoba (‘Gold Dust Dagoba’). Also known as Mahathupa or ‘Great Stupa’, it was begun by King Dutthagamenu to house Buddhist relics in the 2nd century and is considered one of Sri Lanka’s most impressive dagobas.
Joseph Lawton (died 1872), a British commercial photographer, was active in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) between 1866 and 1872. Though he was initially employed by the firm HC Bryde, by the mid 1860s he had established his own studio in Kandy. Lawton was commissioned by the Archaeological Committee to photograph the main archaeological sites in Sri Lanka. He created a unique series of aesthetically powerful images of Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya.
Official photographic surveys conducted by Lawton and others documented the architecture and facilitated antiquarian scholarship. However, as a commercial photographer, Lawton made sure that his photographs were not merely documentary. His images were taken to appeal to tourists and overseas buyers seeking picturesque views of ancient ruins overgrown with creepers and gnarled trees.
Altar and structural remains at the base of a hill surrounded by grass and foliage. There is a pillar on the left hand side of the image and a very worn frieze of elephants is carved on the front of the altar in the foreground. Carved concentric circles appear on the remains of a structure in the background. These ruins lie at the base of the Ruwanweli Dagoba in Anuradhapura.
Place of Origin
Sri Lanka (photographed)
Lawton, Joseph (photographer)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
Written on negative and appears in the bottom left hand corner of the print.
Width: 272 mm photographic print, Height: 218 mm photographic print, Width: 325 mm mount, Height: 259 mm mount
Object history note
This photograph was one of a set purchased by the museum from Lawton and Co. in 1882. See Photograph Register 81259-86096, Modern Volume, 13.
The register entry is dated to 24.4.82, and the cost is noted as £16.43.4
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. On the right hand side is a label which reads: A.in.ANURADHAPURA. A label printed with title is pasted underneath the photograph. The museum number is written in the bottom right hand corner.
Historical significance: The Ruwanweli Dagoba, literally the ‘Gold Dust Dagoba’ but also known as Mahathupa or ‘Great Stupa’, was begun by King Dutthagamenu to house relics in the 2nd century and is considered one of Sri Lanka’s most impressive dagobas. The king fell ill, however, and entrusted his brother Saddhatissa to complete the building project. Decorated with remarkable opulence, the dome (80 m in diameter at its base and 53 m high) was covered with bamboo reeds and painted with lacquer and imitation gold. This photograph pictures some of the numerous remains of smaller structures and sculptural pieces which are set into the landscape surrounding the dagoba.
Anuradhapura was one of the first centres of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and is the home of some of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world. It is situated in the North West province, about 200km from Colombo. Anuradhapura was established as Sri Lanka’s first capital in 377 BC by King Pandukhabhaya (437-367 BC), who named it after the constellation Anuradha. He started the complex irrigation works on which it depended and King Devanampiya Tissa, who reigned 250-10 BC, began the first stage of religious building. This building project included the Thuparama Dagoba, Issurumuniyagala, the Maha Vihara, the Sri Maha Bodhi and the Brazen Palace. A branch of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha was believed to have gained Enlightenment was brought from Bodhgaya in India and successfully transplanted.
Anuradhapura remained the capital city until the 9th century when repeated invasions from south India resulted in the deterioration of its architectural structures and the virtual disuse of its irrigation works. After the 13th century, its political functions were taken over first by Polonnaruwa and then by capitals to the south. In the 1820s Ralph Backhaus, a young British civil servant, mounted a private expedition to search for the remains of the city. Despite widespread public interest in his findings, archaeological research, excavation and restoration were not begun until 1872. The New Town was started in the 1950s and is now the most important Sinhalese city of the north. It currently houses the headquarters of the Sri Lanka Archaeological Survey. In 1988, it was designated a World Heritage Site.
Historical context note
This is one of a series of photographs taken by Lawton of the archaeological sites of Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya (1870-71). This series was commissioned by the Archaeological Committee (set up by the Governor of Ceylon in 1868) and became his signature work. Photographic surveys, conducted by Lawton and competitors such as the more prolific commercial firm WLH Skeen and Co., coincided with antiquarian scholarship that emerged as a result of the deforestation necessary to lay roadways, railways and plantations in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This process was propelled by an expansion of both the export and tourist economies. A colleague of Lawton's proposed that his involvement in the physical labour of clearing the archaeological sites that he photographed contributed to his death. After Lawton's death, many prints were produced by the firm for the tourist market, however, the original negatives were sold to a variety of different clients and are now considered to be lost.
Photograph of the Ruwaneli Dágoba at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, by Joseph Lawton, albumen print, 1870-1.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Regeneration: A Reappraisal of Photography in Ceylon, 1850-1900. London: British Council, 2000. ISBN 086355444X
Falconer, John. Pattern of photographic surveys: Joseph Lawton in Ceylon. In: Pelizzari, Maria Antonella. ed. Traces of India: Photography, Architecture, and the Politics of Representation, 1850-1900. Montréal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2003. 156-173p., ISBN 0920785743.
Likely printed between 1872 and 1882
Attribution note: This is one of a series of photographs taken by Lawton of the archaeological sites of Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya (1870-71), commissioned by the Archaeological Committee which the Governor of Ceylon set up in 1868. Two sets of these photographs were produced by Lawton: one which remained in Sri Lanka (now in such poor condition it is considered to be unusable) and a second which was sent to the Colonial Office in London (first kept in the Library of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and now in The National Archives). After Lawton's death in 1872, further images were produced by the firm under the supervision of his wife and sold largely to a tourist market. Reprints of this particular photograph appear in an album currently held in the Word and Image Department (PH.1202:85-1920) as well as in the Scott Collection (92/16/3) within the India Office Select Materials of the British Library.
Buddhism; Archaeological sites
South & South East Asia Collection