Penance and propaganda

GOLD, Charles, Captain. Oriental Drawings sketched between the years 1791 and 1798. (London,1806)

Provenance: Thomas Phillips, 1844


Bernard and Picart used Indian and Asian religions to illustrate the shared human impulse to believe.  A century later, other authors and artists were once again emphasising difference.

Oriental Drawings is a collection of images produced from sketches made by Captain Charles Gold in India between 1791 and 1798 while he was serving in military campaigns against the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, Tipu Sultan. The book was designed to appeal to contemporary taste for the 'exotic', and was dedicated to the war-time Governor General of India, Charles, Marquis Cornwallis (1738-1805).

This image shows various forms of mutilation and ritual self-inflicted pain allegedly performed in honour of Mariatale, Goddess of Smallpox. A devotee is suspended from a pole. The ropes from which he swings are attached by metal hooks inserted in his back - and he is smiling. His helmet and shield mark him as a soldier of Tipu. The image implies that the man enjoys pain, a reputation shared by Tipu and his so-called Tiger-soldiers.