At Bonhams: Rare Victorian “Photographs of the Elliot Marbles”

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A rare copy of Photographs of the Elliot Marbles by the Victorian photographer Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902) is to be sold at Bonhams sale of Fine Books, Manuscripts, Atlases and Historical Photographs in London on Wednesday 18 March. It is estimated at £15,000-20,000.

The Elliot Marbles, now in the British Museum, were named after Walter Elliot, an employee of the Madras Civil Service, who, in 1845, excavated these important Buddhist sculptures from the Great Stupa at Amaravati in south east India. The ancient religious complex of which they formed a part had gradually fallen into ruin as Hinduism replaced Buddhism and the huge site had been steadily stripped for building material.  Elliot arranged for the sculptures to be sent to Madras (modern day Chennai) where, in 1858, they were recorded by Linnaeus Tripe, an army officer who had been appointed as the official photographer to the Madras presidency the year before.

Tripe, who had taken up photography in the early 1850s while on convalescent leave in England, had to overcome several challenges to capture the sculptures.  Many of them were too heavy to carry into the open air where the light would have been better and he was forced to use a new, unfamiliar, process in order to complete the work in the time available. 

Prone to deterioration, the limestone sculptures were moved to London in 1859 and eventually housed in the British Museum where they are now displayed in a specially built, air conditioned environment.

Head of Bonhams Book Department, Matthew Haley, said, “It is to Linnaeus Tripe that we owe some of the most evocative photographs of India and Burma of the mid-Victorian period. They stand not only as works of art in their own right but also as invaluable historical records. His images of the Elliot Marbles made under difficult conditions are held in particularly high regard.”

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