DURING the governor-generalship of Lord Lawrence, Sir Stafford Northcote, in 1868, made the suggestion to the Government of India to conserve and record the most remarkable of the ancient monuments in that country. Although amounting to scarcely more than a tentative measure, a resolution indicating the value which the Government of India attached to the suggestion emanating from Sir Stafford Northcote was passed, whereby amateur photographers were encouraged in the taking of views of architectural buildings, and were pecuniarily assisted in so doing. Soon after a more comprehensive scheme was drawn up, by which the surveying of Bengal, Madras, Bombay and the Upper Provinces was assigned to various parties who were charged to record, as far as possible, the measurements, and to take photographs of buildings and monuments and plaster casts of carvings and sculptured figures. Under the late Governor-Generalship, viz. that of the Earl of Mayo, many important results have been obtained by the prosperous working of the system, the cost of which has been supported by Imperial funds. Advantage of this organization was taken by the South Kensington Museum authorities, who applied to the Indian Government for a cast of the Eastern Gateway of the Sanchi Tope, and this work was speedily put in hand. As this and other work proceeded elsewhere, the necessity of a central authority presented itself, and that has been now met by the creation of a government officer, termed Director-General of Archaeology. Hence, it may be said, to the interest awakened in this country for Indian monuments of antiquity, is due the institution of an archaeological survey by the Indian Government, and of a series of architectural investigations by the Committee of Council on Education for the South Kensington Museum. But the distinction between the seemingly allied interests, viz. 1stly, of the Indian Government; and 2ndly, of the South Kensington Museum, should perhaps be pointed out. India is not yet well provided with museums or with buildings affording accommodation for large works of fine art, and the special efforts of the Government have been directed to inquiries affecting history rather than those affecting art; the South Kensington Museum, on the other hand, in prosecuting its desire to obtain a series of illustrations of architectural monuments of all countries, seeks to procure records of the art of India. The history of India is intimately connected with the ancient monuments of that country. In some cases these monuments are her only reliable records. Here, then, the interests of the two works which have been begun will become allied and will mutually benefit one another. For, there can be no doubt but that archaeological investigations and surveys will happen to be made of buildings whose high artistic character renders them of sufficient importance for them to be carefully reproduced. Certainly the history of the world's art would not be considered to be perfect without a collection of typical art specimens from India. And the value to the students of these reproductions of typical art specimens will be considerably enhanced by the accompaniment of surveys and explanations.
Thus, while the Indian Government investigates the archaeology of its country, Great Britain endeavours to get architectural casts representing the styles of the Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Muhammadans.
Major-General Cunningham, the Director of the Archaeological Survey of India, is now engaged in making a comprehensive survey of antiquities, by means of which reliable landmarks of history will become established and more solid information obtained in fixing dates than is at present procurable from native writings, which are more often based upon fables and traditions than on authenticated facts. Mr. Fergusson has frequently pointed out the historical value of ancient buildings in determining the state of civilization of nations at different periods of their progress, and lays a special importance on the styles of architecture, which he holds to have had so regular a growth and variation that dates may be fixed with a fair amount of reliance. General Cunningham intends, I know, to supplement his archaeological researches with all procurable facts and illustrations relating to architecture and ornament. In a few years the efforts of the Indian Government and those of the Science and Art Department will be productive of exhaustive information and of such illustrations and full-sized facsimiles as will be a valuable addition to architectural studies, and give additional interest to the more sober subject of archaeology.
The plaster cast of the Eastern gateway of the great Buddhist Tope at Sanchi, to which I have alluded, was exhibited in the Reproduction Court of the International Exhibition of 1871, and its sculptures claimed the attention and interest of both archaeologists and architects. The gate is thirty-three feet high, the two perpendicular pillars are crossed by three lintels. The entire surface, back and front, is covered with elaborate sculptures. Mr. Fergusson has at considerable length treated upon the art and history of the Sanchi Tope and its gateways in his work on "Tree and Serpent Worship " and exhaustive Archaeological information relating to this ancient monument may be found in General Cunningham's work styled the "Bhilsa Topes." The transport of the casts of the gate from Bhopal, in Central India, materially increased the primary cost of reproduction. But it is satisfactory to find that the expenses incurred in the carrying out of the entire casting works compare favourably with the cost involved by operations of a similar nature. Representing, as it does, the style of the large and finely sculptured early Buddhist monuments, the Sanchi Gateway holds a high rank of architectural importance, and I do not think a better representative specimen of Buddhist art could have been selected.
An incident connected with the visit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to India in 1870, contributed in a remarkable manner to the successful transport of the casts of the Gateway from Bhopal to the Railway communicating direct with Bombay. Her Highness the Begum of Bhopal had met the Prince in Calcutta, and was so much struck by his good looks and agreeable manner, that she became imbued with a strong and loyal attachment for the Royal visitor. On her return from the Calcutta festivities to her State of Bhopal, and whilst my party were still engaged at Sanchi in the completion of the casts, she at once set to work to make the city of Bhopal wear a holiday aspect, and prevailed on Colonel Thompson, the political agent, to communicate an invitation to the Prince to visit her capital. In anticipation of its acceptance, she caused a temporary road to be thrown up between Bhopal and the town of Hoshangabad on the line of railway, then only just completed, between Calcutta and Bombay. The track of country which intervenes between the two former places is very wild and hilly, and under ordinary circumstances the so-called road is difficult of passage, and anything but suited for carts containing fragile burdens. It thus oddly happened that as the Prince did not find it possible to visit Bhopal, the carts bearing the casts of the Sanchi Gate alone profited by the improved character of the road, and in consequence reached Hoshangabad without damage or accident. Had this improvement not been undertaken, it would have been necessary to have sent them to join the railway by a very circuitous and not much better road.
The authorities at the South Kensington Museum have recently constructed two large Courts, eighty feet high, for the Exhibition of full-sized reproductions of this character; and they have, I believe, the intention to make such a collection of structural facsimiles as will enable a comparison to be instituted between the various modes of decoration allied with construction in all parts of the world. Since the reproduction of the Sanchi Gate, the Science and Art Department has caused casts to be made of Hindu and Muhammadan ornamental features from the Kutb, near Delhi and Fathpiir Sikri near Agra.
At the end of 1870 I was deputed to carry out these latter operations at those places, and leaving London on the 7th of November, travelled across the Continent to Brindisi, where I met my assistant, Corporal Jackson of the Royal Engineers, on board the steamship Arabia. The materials and implements for the casting process had been despatched some weeks previously from London. On my arrival at Bombay, in December, I found that they had preceded me up country as far as Jabalpur. Fathpiir Sikri, near Agra, was my first resting place, where, having started some casting operations at the Palace of the Mogul Emperor Akbar, I left Corporal Jackson to superintend their completion. Without delay I instructed five native moulders, who had been employed as soap-stone carvers and workers of mosaics at Agra, in the casting process. They readily acquired the necessary skill. We then proceeded to set to work at the Kutb near Delhi, where we commenced making a series of facsimiles of the best specimens characteristic of the Hindu and Pathan sculptures, which abound among the ruins of that place. After the natives, who were engaged on the work, had shown themselves capable of carrying it out without the necessity of my direct superintendence and continuous assistance, I devoted a large portion of time to making a careful investigation of the buildings and turned my attention to their history, as recounted by Syud Ahmed in the Asar-usunadid and in other works. During these investigations I derived much help from General Cunningham's report of the Archaeological Survey for the season of 1862-3. The Kutb buildings are accurately described in this report, and with such a valuable and reliable guide it was not difficult to become acquainted with the leading historical features of the place.
By a previous arrangement Mr. Shepherd, of the firm of Messrs. Shepherd and Bourne, came to the Kutb to take a set of photographs of the most interesting buildings, and these are here published by order of the Lords of the Committee of Council on Education, to form a collateral series of illustrations to the casts exhibited at the South Kensington Museum. Mr. Shepherd's renown as a skilful photographer is almost as widely spread in England as in India. The large sized views of the beautiful Himalayan Hills and of a great number of well-known buildings at Agra, Delhi, Amritsar, Benares, and other cities, have earned for the firm a well-deserved and high reputation. I feel I ought to express my sense of Mr. Shepherd's invariable attention and courtesy whilst carrying out my suggestions in regard to the photographs. In producing illustrations of architectural subjects, illustrations which in truth are merely intended to be faithful diagrammatic records, the clear reproduction of structural and ornamental details ranks higher in importance than the production of a picturesque scene, or view of the country. Mr. Shepherd's instincts and sympathies were inclined, and naturally so, more strongly to the latter than to the former, but to meet the special requirements of the illustrations prepared for this volume he changed his visual style and, in concurrence Avith my suggestions, concentrated his energies in securing most accurate photographs of the architectural features, thereby using his art as a means for scientific reproduction.
In my report to Her Majesty's Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 on the Collection of Reproductions exhibited at the London International Exhibition of 1871. I have already given a brief description of the gelatine process of obtaining casts. Piece moulding, whether in clay, plaster or any other material, involves considerable skill and time; hence, its unsuitability to reproducing large objects covered with much carving or sculptures which from palpable reasons must be carried out expeditiously. In every class of "piece moulding" the method of covering the carved surface with a number of inelastic moulds capable of being individually removed with ease is theoretically the same. The perfection of the plaster piece moulding depends on the skill of the moulder in the disposition of the moulds, so as to have the fewest possible joints when the piece moulds fitted together completely cover the carving. Such a process is evidently not suitable, in respect of rapidity, to Indian sculptures, which are mostly of a very elaborate character—partaking largely of what is technically termed an "undercut" quality — and native moulders cannot be trusted to execute any such work alone, as it requires unbroken supervision on the part of some qualified person. A demand was thus created for a process which would be not only more easy and quick, but to a great extent would obviate the necessity of manipulating the casts when they issue from the mould. A process of moulding with gelatine was adopted, and it meets the requirements above stated to a very considerable extent. It is applicable in the reproduction of big objects by reason of the large area which a single mould can cover. As the gelatine is elastic, a great extent of "under-cut" in the carving may be embraced in one mould, thus rendering unnecessary the making of a number of joints. In withdrawing the elastic mould from the object under treatment, the gelatine stretches itself in order to become released from the "undercut," but it regains its shape almost immediately without destroying any of the extreme accuracy with which the gelatine is able to repeat every mark and grain on the surface reproduced. This gelatine process is more mechanical in its nature than piece moulding, therefore it is easily acquired b}- natives, who, with ordinary care and under supervision, execute it rapidly and well.
The method of preparing an elastic mould is briefly as follows:— The backing or wall to hold the mould i^ tin- primary work : the carved surface is thoroughly cleaned with hard brushes and soft soap, and all vegetable incrustations carefully removed. Rolls of clay are then applied, sheets of paper or coarse cloth intervening to keep the sculpture clean; the outer surface of the clay is moistened and smoothed, and a wall of plaster. strengthened with iron bars, built up against it. This wall, when set, is removed, and the clay taken awav. The inner surface is scraped, cleaned, and oiled. When replaced, an interval of the exact thickness of the clay formerly applied will exist, and into this interval is poured gelatine. After about twelve hours' cooling in a temperature of not over 75° Fahrenheit, the gelatine will have attained the consistency of India-rubber, and may be peeled off the carved surface. In cases of deep undercutting, considerable force is required to effect this. The gelatine mould is then replaced on the wall, which is laid in a horizontal position on the ground, the inner surface of which it has reproduced in reverse, and being thus held rigid a plaster cast may be made in the usual way. Generally a fresh mould has to be made for every fresh cast that is produced, as the plaster in setting gets heated, and being in contact for some time with the surface of the gelatine, the heat melts the delicate portions the gelatine, and destroys the mould. In cold weather more than one cast may be produced from a single mould. Various preparations are sometimes used to render some slight protection to the surface of the gelatine, but these almost invariably damage the sharpness of the mould. In every distinct operation the greatest care and attention are required, in order that the natural good qualities of the gelatine may be allowed perfect freedom in producing an accurate copy. The photograph on the opposite page, of the group represents the casting operations at the Kutb in progress. The three moulds under manipulation show the position of the gelatine mould inside the clay wall. That upon the box in the centre of the picture has been cleaned, and is ready for casting from. The other two are being brushed out preparatory to casting. On the left is the plaster of Paris in a bag—the pans in which it is mixed with the water are near to it, and water is being poured out, by the "Bhisti" or water bearer, into one of them. On the right are the copper pails in which the gelatine is boiled.
The casts made at the Kutb weighed about six tons when packed; an equal number of facsimiles were produced under the superintendence of Corporal Jackson, at Fathpiir-Sikri, near Agra, and the whole collection was sent back to England, overland, and reached London about the end of May, 1871. They then underwent such repairs as had been rendered needful by the casualties of a long voyage, and from them have been reproduced two sets of casts, one for London and one for Edinburgh.
The casts of Indian subjects now in the possession of the South Kensington Museum represent:—
1. Buddhist art, as illustrated by the Eastern Gateway of the Sanchi Tope (probable date, commencement of the Christian era. See General Cunningham's "Bhilsa Topes," Smith. Elder and Co., and Mr. Fergusson's "Tree and Serpent Worship," W. H. Allen and Co.)
2. Hindu art. as shown by the sculptured pillars from the colonnade of the Court of the Mosque at the Kutb (date tenth to the eleventh century, A.D.).
3. Pathan art, as represented in the casts of the sculptures on the Kutb Gateways, on the Minar and on the surrounding buildings, date twelfth to fifteenth centuries, a.d. (See Fergusson's "History of Architecture." vol. iii. p. 645; "Journal Asiatique," 5th series. torn. xv.—xvii.; and "Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal," vol. 33, 1864, supplementary number.)
4. Mogul art. as shown in the series of casts from the Palace at Fathpur Sikri (date about the middle of the sixteenth century). (See Fergusson's "History of Architecture," vol. iii. p. 697.)
I have heard the questions asked, "What practical use is there in these reproductions?" "What good can be derived from their exhibition in England?" "What would be the use of such collections to India?"
To the first two, I would reply that Indian architecture, like that of Egypt. Assyria, Greece, &c, is an important part of the History of the World's Art of Building, and that a student of architecture cannot complete his studies without the acquirement of. at least, some knowledge of Indian modes of building and decoration, and from these reproductions, which can be studied in his own country, he is able to derive a large number of suggestive principles. To the last, I would answer, that, as the people of India have for centuries been very considerable builders in ornamental styles of unusual purity, it behoves the governing heads of the country to preserve, and not pervert the artistic instincts of the natives.
Until lately the idea of preservation had not assumed a tangible shape, and throughout India there are innumerable evidences daily springing up, all of which prove that European rule has debased Indian art by the mixture of European forms of ornament with those of Asia. Buildings, such as temples, mosques, palaces, schools, colleges, etc.. suffer equally. and Hindu shapes. Mogul domes. Gothic arches. Greek columns, are considered suitable details to introduce in the same design bv the modern native designer. But as he is Taught no better the evil increases with every new native building of importance. Hybrid agglomerations are hideous in proportion to the amount of rupees available for the undertaking, and thus the wealth of the builder becomes surety for the greatest number of styles which the native draftsman can carefully muddle together.
The want of proper instruction to native designers affects manufactures as well as architecture, and until such a want is supplied by a system of museums and schools, there is no hope for improvement in the present condition of Indian art. The museums should be well stocked with all classes of illustrations of ancient styles of architecture, and in the schools the student should be taught the arts which his ancestors and forefathers so well knew how to practise.