<p>The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) collections in Cambridge University Library contain a very attractive collection of nineteenth century Indian mica paintings from Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, southern India (classmark: RCMS 352), which have recently been conserved.</p> <p>Mica paintings were produced in standard sets for the colonial tourist market, with many being sold to employees of the East India Company from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century – hence the collective term ‘Company paintings’. Mica paintings imitated paintings on glass which were popular in Europe at the time and were also used in India by artists for preserving tracings of their family paintings and to decorate glass for temple lanterns.</p> <p>The Library’s set comprises thirty-six miniature portraits from Trichinopoly, the British name for Tiruchirappalli, and is dated 1869. Neither the identity of the artist nor the person who purchased the set is known, but it reached the Society in October 1935 inserted into a small bound volume, the front cover of which was embossed ‘Scrap book’. Each colour portrait is painted on a very thin sheet of mica, referred to as ‘talc’ in a pencil annotation on a preliminary page in the scrapbook.</p> <p>It is almost certain that our micas were created as souvenirs – the postcards of their day – as they depict thirty-six Indians in brightly coloured clothes, sometimes bearing an object or clothing which distinguished their role in Indian society at the time. Examples are the Hookah-burdar carrying his master’s hooka (pipe for smoking) or the Dhobee’s wife carrying a bundle of washing above her head.</p> <p>Incredibly for objects of such an ephemeral nature, the micas reached the Library still brilliantly coloured and fairly intact, but they had become too fragile to handle. Library conservator Emma Nichols describes a project to conserve and rehouse them <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='https://specialcollections.blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=9876'>on the Library's Special Collections Blog</a>.</p> <p>To learn more about ‘Company paintings’ and an album held in SOAS Library, do read:</p> <p>Crispin Branfoot, Painting processions: the social and religious landscape of southern India in a ‘Company’ album. In: Orientations, November-December 2007, pages 73-78.</p>
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