'These Beastly Obscenities': Monuments, Images and Antiquities in Imperial India

This module will explore how objects defined as ancient, beautiful or ugly, antique, artistic or collectable reflect the history of British Imperialism in South Asia. From the end of the eighteenth century, European scholars and bibliophiles were fascinated by Indian landscapes and objects. Sculptures and architecture could be described as beastly and regarded as dangerously erotic or they could be lauded as worthy of emulation. The pursuits of art history and archaeology were used to justify the necessity of foreign power in India. Antiquities were classified according to religious and chronological divisions, separating 'Buddhist', 'Hindu' and 'Muslim' materials. Museums and Art Schools were established to teach western aesthetic mores and technologies. By the end of the nineteenth century, Indian artists and art historians rejected these understandings of Indian art and art was used to challenge the colonial state.

The course will familiarise you with a range of sculptural, painted and architectural forms from India and the changing interpretation of those objects. The objects we will explore date from the third millennium B.C. to the 1940s.