Mihintale. First and second flights of stone steps leading towards the summit of the sacred mountain. The steps from base to summit are said to be 1,800 in number.; Steps leading to the summit of Lion Mountain at Mihintale.
- Place of origin:
Sri Lanka (photographed)
Lawton, Joseph (photographer)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Over 1800 steps lead to the summit of the sacred mountain. Legend tells of how in the 3rd century BC King Devanampiyatissa was chasing a stag up this hillside. When he reached the top, the stag disappeared but he came across Mahinda, son of Asoka, the first Buddhist ruler of India. Mahinda converted the king and 40,000 soldiers to Buddhism.
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.
Ruins of dozens of steps running up the centre of the image; another aspect of the steps pictured in 2286-1912. The steps are flanked by tall trees and other foliage. In the foreground there is grass at the base of the steps.
Place of Origin
Sri Lanka (photographed)
Lawton, Joseph (photographer)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
Small rectangle of unexposed photographic paper
Width: 150 mm photographic print, Height: 202 mm photographic print, Width: 266 mm mount, Height: 324 mm mount
Object history note
This photograph was one of a set given to the museum by Mrs Moberley. Her late husband George Moberley, had collected them while in India and Ceylon during the1860-70s. See Registry file MA/1/M2393
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. In the top right hand corner is a label which reads: A.in.MIHINTALE. A label printed with the title is pasted on the back of the mount. The museum number is handwritten in the bottom right hand corner beside the photograph. The top of the mount is embossed with the National Art Library seal (partially trimmed off), with the words 'LIBRARY/ VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM'.
Historical significance: Only eleven miles east of Anuradhapura, Mihintale is one of the first homes of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and features some of the country’s most sacred Buddhist sites. It was in Mihintale that King Devanampiya Tissa received the Emperor Asoka’s son Mahinda, a Buddhist monk from India, who converted him and 40,000 followers to Buddhism in 243 BC. Popularly referred to as Mahinda’s Hill, Mihintale is revered as the place where the meeting between the monk and king took place. Many Buddhists make a pilgrimage to the site during June, the month of ‘Poson’ or the full moon. Large steps, surviving from ancient building programmes and pictured in this photograph, were constructed to climb Mihintale and King Devanampiyatissa constructed a Buddhist vihara (a refuge monastery for wandering monks) and sixty-eight caves for them to reside in. With the exception of June, Mihintale is now a quiet town which is primarily a junction and a stop on the way to Anuradhapura.
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 steps leading to the summit of Lion Mountain at Mihintale, 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; Sri Lanka; Archaeological sites