Museum exhibitions involve a considerable (and seemingly endless) number of lists relating to artworks, loans, budgets, contracts, illustrations, gallery texts, condition reports, shipments, couriers, and installation specifications, to name just a few. I thought it would be fun to share a few of the more interesting lists (abbreviated here) that I encountered during my work on India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow.
Antoine Polier, a Swiss-born Frenchman, spent many years in Lucknow during the late eighteenth century. He collected Indian paintings, some of which are on view in the exhibition, and was depicted in portraits that show his adoption of an Indian lifestyle.
Polier owned an estate on which he cultivated various fruit trees, flowers, and other plants. The following is a list of items he sent to his estate manager at Lucknow in January 1784.
Two caps made of badla (golden thread) [these were intended for his young son, Baba Antony, whose mother was Indian]
218 cypress plants
7 plum trees
26 motia (jasmine)
Narcissus cuttings (1,000 in 4 bundles)
One packet of seeds of the gul-i-asharfi flower (calendula)
One gardener by the name of Narain
Claude Martin, another European resident of Lucknow examined in the exhibition, was a builder and collector extraordinaire. When he died at Lucknow in 1800, the contents of his vast estates, which included the massive building known as La Martinière, were auctioned off.
The items contained in his estate inventory numbered in the tens of thousands. Many were imported by Martin from various buyers working for him in London and elsewhere. The two lists below indicate dueling aspects of Martin’s experience of India—his nostalgia for the comforts of home (he was born in Lyon, France) and his attraction to Indian riches.
Annual food provisions that Martin received from Marseilles, France:
Four dozen bottles of fine liqueurs
Two dozen bottles of tarragon vinegar
Four dozen bottles of olive oil
One dozen boxes of assorted preserves
Two dozen boxes of double bottles of olives
Four flagons of anchovies in oil
One sack of 20lbs of nuts
One sack of 20lbs of sweet chestnuts or dried chestnuts
20lbs of prunes
20lbs of prunellos
20lbs dry figs
20lbs Corinth raisins
Just a few of the diamonds listed in the 1801 auction inventory of Claude Martin’s estate. (The weight is given in ratis—an Indian measure equivalent to nearly one carat.)
96 set diamonds in a row (266 ratis)
32 set diamonds in a cluster (91 ratis)
17 unset diamonds (49.5 ratis)
31 set diamonds (106.5 ratis)
1 rose diamond (14 ratis)
10 diamonds in a chain (19 ratis)
26 diamonds unset (34.5 ratis)
41 diamonds unset (37.25 ratis)
16 rough diamonds (45.25 ratis)
32 rough diamonds (44.5 ratis)
Lucknow was plundered after the Great Uprising of 1857–58. What follows is a short selection of items appearing in a lengthy list detailing the contents of one “barrel” of loot sent back to the royal treasury in England. The lists of forty such barrels can be found in the Government of India Archives.
Selected items from contents of Barrel No. 12. Secret A Proceedings. CROWN: FOREIGN DEPT.’T. SEC. 1858: Consl No. 24 Sept. No. 163-164.
Item 1. A red velvet cap richly jeweled with diamonds, emeralds, and pearls.
Item 21. A large silver box of unset diamonds of large and medium sizes.
Item 24. A set of emerald ornaments consisting of 5 large stones, and 2 emerald mouthpieces [for water-pipes]
Item 33. A. One pair of ruby bracelets with central emeralds, B. one pair of diamond bracelets, C. One diamond bracelet, D. a pair of bracelets with 3 stars alternating with rubies and emeralds, with central pearls, E. 2 pairs of diamond bracelets with central rubies, F. A pair of bracelets half mooned set with emeralds, G. A pair of bracelets set with emeralds, H. An odd diamond, I. Another pair of diamond bracelets with 3 ruby and 2 emerald bracelets, J. A gold bracelet with central ruby, K. A small silver bracelet,
L. A bracelet with small ruby and diamonds.
[The list extends to more than 41 entries. Several of them, like Item 33 above, detail extensive groups of jeweled ornaments.]
In 1988, a writer by the name of I. Allan Sealy, who was educated at La Martinière (the great building erected by Claude Martin, which was later turned into a school) published a fabulous and inventive novel called The Trotter-Nama. The setting of the novel is an estate called Sans Souci which is located in a city called Nakhlau (modeled, respectively, on La Martinière and Lucknow).
Justin Aloysius Trotter, one of the main characters in the novel is based on the figure of Claude Martin. In one section of the novel, the narrator describes Justin Trotter in a page-long passage of praise which parodies Indian historical chronicles:
Great Trotter, Beloved of God, Cynosure of Mankind, Builder of Sans Souci, Feeder of One Lakh [100,000], Who Sweetens the Melon, Who Will Shortly Walk in the Sky, Whose Tower Scrapes the Heavens, Valiant One, Who Plucks the Liver of Crocodiles, Namer of Stars by Day, River-Course Changer, Holy One, Sleek Master, Herald of the Ice Age, Causer of Lakes to Appear, Causer of Water to Run Uphill, Virile One, Beloved of Many, Who Fathered a Fat Son, Who is Himself Fat, Who Eats Jakfruit Whole, Shapely One, Who Cannot be Outeaten, Who Ate the Nawab to a Standstill, …To Whom the Graceful Palm Bows, Before Whom Elephant Grass Bends, For Whom the Elephants Trumpet, For Whom Camels Reserve Their Choicest Smiles, …Who Spotted the Leopard and Let it Go, …Who Leaps Heart-Stopping Streams with a Horse Under each Arm, …Whose Rages are More to be Feared than the Yellow Storm, Who Pays his Writers Handsomely, As He Himself is Handsome, …Beginning and End, Philanthropist, Shining Forehead, Sweet Rain Cloud, Munificent One.
Tushara Bindu Gude, Associate Curator, South and Southeast Asian Art
Thank you so much. Those of us interested in the pursuit of genealogy are always amused at the inventories of our ancestors’ estates here in New England. But these Indian ones are far more colorful and in some cases much richer. I found Trotter-Nama on eBay for a few bucks, and am sure I will enjoy it soon. Thanks for the recommendation. The fawning on the sahib reminds me of how grad students treat my husband sometimes at MIT (embarrassing him terribly). It also reminds me of a Catholic litany to the Virgin I used to recite in parochial school. My husband and I enjoyed the exhibit when we were in Los Angeles in January. It worked very well with photos at the Getty by Beato, a few of which overlapped with the Lucknow exhibits. Really fascinating.