Indian Albums of the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century between Tradition and Documentation: The Polier and Swinton Albums in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Since 1882, twenty Indian albums dating to the second half of the eighteenth century have been kept in the Berlin State museums. The selection and arrangement of the calligraphies and images within these albums seem to link to courtly Indo-Persianate traditions, while also reflecting the specific preferences of European patrons and collectors.

Ten albums belonged to the Swiss engineer-architect Antoine Louis Henri Polier (1741-1795) and eight to the Scottish surgeon and interpreter Archibald Swinton (1731-1804). Both were British East India Company officers who until their return to Europe very much participated in Indo-Islamic elite culture. At that time, the British rose to significant power in India, but the shift from British Orientalist to Anglicist policies had not yet taken place.

This project explores the circulation and transformation of motifs, as well as aspects of exoticisation and proto-ethnography, in the assemblage of these albums, within the context of networks between Europeans, Indian rulers, local elites and artists.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Friederike Weis
Project Staff: Sophie Triller (student assistant)
Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, project no. 416816602
Project Partners: Museum für Islamische Kunst, Prof. Dr. Stefan Weber
Project Duration: 2019 to 2024