Transcultural objects and colonial realpolitik in the princely state of Travancore, India. The history of Queen Victoria’s ivory throne
An online interactive lecture by Deepthi Murali, research fellow at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
This webinar will take place from 14:00 - 15:00 p.m. Amsterdam Time (Central European Summer Time, CEST).
In 1876, Queen Victoria took the title of Empress of India. Her first official photograph shows her dressed in all black, seated regally on an exquisite ivory throne. The photograph is about the Empress, front and centre. But over her head, like a spectre, rises the pinnacle of the throne. This pinnacle is not the heraldic British lion but a conch shell, the symbol for the king of Travancore.
In this talk, Dr Deepthi Murali examines the transcultural nature of the production of art objects in the mid-nineteenth century in the princely state of Travancore, India, through the study of an ivory throne and footstool made for Queen Victoria. Presented to her as a gift on the occasion of The Great Exhibition of 1851 by Uthram Thirunal Martanda Varma, the king of Travancore, the throne quickly became one of the most popular exhibits. Later, it became part of the imperial interiors, and in 1876, it became Victoria’s chair of state.
The throne’s popularity not only gave birth to an international ivory carving industry in Travancore that employed many lower caste artists for the next century. Moreover, the transcultural nature of the throne made it an object capable of diplomatic communiqué between an endangered princely state and the British imperial centre at a time when the British East India Company continued direct rule on the subcontinent.
The 'throne diplomacy', as Deepthi Murali calls it, demonstrates the ability of transcultural objects to mediate between different cultural spheres, especially in spaces where human mediation was perhaps not possible. Simultaneously, Murali enumerates the nature of transcultural artistic production and processes in the sub-imperial princely sphere in the mid-nineteenth century.
Deepthi Murali is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. She received her PhD in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Deepthi’s current projects include converting her dissertation 'Transculturality, Sensoriality, and Politics of Decorative Arts of Travancore, India' into a book and a digital art history project on eighteenth-century Indian cotton Textiles. Deepthi is also deeply interested in the dissemination of scholarship as public history, which she does through her website and podcast. Her research and work have been funded by the American Institute of Indian Studies, Yale Centre for British Art, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
There will be time for questions after the lecture.
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Queen Victoria (1819-1901) as Empress of India, January 1876, W & D Downey (active 1855-1941), Albumen print, RCIN 2105735, ©The Board of Trustees of the Royal Collection Trust, UK.