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Art and Empire in Nineteenth-Century India

Art and Empire in Nineteenth-Century India

Travel literature in 19th-century India was closely linked to the British empire. Behind every picture was an army. This is especially true of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ramus Forrest’s illustrated book, A Picturesque Tour Along the Rivers Ganges and Jumna, In India, (SpecCol RB Oversize DS408 .F65) published in 1824.

Title Page
Title page of A picturesque tour along the rivers Ganges and Jumna, in India. (Spec Coll RB Oversize DS408 .F65)

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ramus Forrest (d. 1827) was a British infantry officer and amateur artist who served in India between 1802 and 1811, first with the 3rd Regiment of Foot (“The Bluffs”) and later as an aide-de-camp to his father-in-law, General William St. Leger. His pictorial tour of India remains one of the most famous illustrated books on India in the 19th century. Forrest undertook his tour from Calcutta to Khanpore in December 1807 with a party consisting of seven British officers, three elephants, 200 servants, and an armed guard of 40 sepoys, or Indian soldiers.

Forrest - End of Book
Last page, with aquatint tail-piece

An accomplished draughtsman, Forrest’s drawings and watercolors of his India travels highlight the close relationship between the military and visual arts during the 19th century. During this time, military academies trained soldiers in drawing and watercolor, which is where Forrest most likely honed his skills. The excellent aquatints by G. Hunt and Thomas Sutherland capture the watercolor impressions of Forrest’s plein air compositions, with special attention to the changing light and cloud formations of the Indian landscape. Forrest ends his primary tour of India at the place he knew best, at Khanpore, the headquarters of the field-command in Bengal where he was stationed.

Plates showing Hindoo Village and Khanpore
Left: Plate 2, Hindoo Village on the Ganges, Near Amboo; Right: Plate 18, Surseya Ghaut, Khanpore
Exploring Tagalog Grammar

Exploring Tagalog Grammar

The University of Cincinnati’s Archives & Rare Books Library holds a rare first edition of Sebastián de Totanes’s Tagalog grammar, Arte de la lengua tagala y manual tagalog para la administración de los Santos Sacramentos.  Printed entirely on rice paper and bound in vellum, this book served as a Tagalog language primer for Spanish missionaries.

Left:  Vellum cover of Arte de la lengua tagala (PL6053 .T7 1745),  Right: Title page

Sebastián de Totanes (1688-1748) published his grammar in Manila in 1745 after spending 30 years as a Franciscan missionary in the Philippines. Language and empire went hand in hand in the Spanish colonies and the Spanish influence on the Tagalog language is apparent not only in what Totanes included in his grammar but also what he omitted. Excluded from the book is Tagalog’s native script known as baybayin, which Totanes references on the first page, “No se trata de los Caracteres Tagalos” (The Tagalog characters will not be treated here). Baybayin is related to the Brahmic script and was widely used among the Tagalogs and other linguistic groups prior to Spanish colonization in 1521.  Below is contemporary rendering of the baybayin alphasyllabary.

Baybayin script
Baybayin alphasyllabary. (Image from: Diringer, David. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind. New York: Philosophical Library, 1948)

Instead of using the indigenous script, Totanes transliterated Tagalog words into the Latin alphabet or, “Caracteres Castellanos,” as he calls them. Totanes was not alone in romanizing the Tagalog language. Spanish missionaries began rejecting baybayin as a written vernacular as early as the 16th century when they found the syllabary too complex and ambiguous for the purposes of missionary work. Totanes reveals the cultural impact of colonial script selection on the indigenous population, “…rare is the indio who knows how to read Tagalog characters and rarer still is the one who knows how to write them. All of them read and write our Castilian characters now” (the original Spanish can be read below). Despite the efforts of Spanish missionaries to replace the indigenous script, the use of baybayin never completely disappeared in the Philippines and survives to the present day.

First page
First page of Arte de la lengua tagala. (PL6053 .T7 1745)
Scroll of Esther

Scroll of Esther

The inaugural post of the new Rare Book Occasional looks at the Rare Books Library’s two manuscript copies of the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther). Produced sometime in the 18th- and 19th centuries, these parchment scrolls illustrate the ritual importance of scroll reading in Judaism.

The Book of Esther holds a prominent position in the Jewish faith, as it is one of the Five Megillot, or five scrolls that mark particular festival or fast days in the Jewish calendar. This important Biblical book recounts Esther’s role in securing the salvation of the Persian Jews, and its recitation marks a day of joyous celebration for Jewish people. Esther scrolls are traditionally read twice during the festival of Purim, once in the morning and again in the evening.


Top:  Scroll of Esther (Ms. no. 22), before treatment,  Bottom: Scroll open to the names of Haman’s sons (Esther 9:7,9). Photos: Jessica Ebert

The materiality of the Scroll of Esther forms an important part of its religious significance. Early rabbinical writers composed rules regulating its production and public recitation. According to rabbinic tradition, the ceremonial Scroll of Esther can only be handwritten on parchment with ink using the square Hebrew script. Esther scrolls are also distinguished by their arrangement on a single dowel. These rabbinical prescriptions continued to influence the scroll’s material construction in more contemporary times, as illustrated by the Rare Books Library’s 18th– and late 19th-century Esther scrolls. In accordance with tradition, these scrolls are handwritten on vellum in the traditional script.

Featured here are images of one of the Library’s Esther scrolls that recently underwent conservation to repair small tears and damage to the parchment (Ms. no. 22). The scroll was rehoused on two dowels to enable the manuscript to be safely viewed.

Additional information about the conservation process can be found here.


Scroll of Esther (Ms. no. 22), after treatment. Photo: Jessica Ebert

Archives and Rare Books Library
University of Cincinnati
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(513) 556-1959
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