History and works of are intertwined akin to a DNA helix. One doesn't exist without the other, speaking in general terminology. The art of an era generally follows the popular culture and politics, helping to define the mindset of that age.
Over the last few years we have started to take a big interest in checking out automaton's. It is quite difficult to find them being created in the 21st century, as they feel like old technology. What fascinates us the most, is the intricate details of the sculpture, that is being animated. There is a classical sense of craftsmanship and story telling that is not lost, due to the effects of time.
Stories that follow along with Tipu's Tiger give a huge insight into the plight of 1800's India with British Colonialism. Once you understand the meaning of the tiger and the soldier in the picture, this sentiment echo's some two hundred years later with a full roar.
|'Tipu's Tiger', a carved and lacquered wooden semi-automaton in the shape of a tiger mauling a man, Mysore, India, about 1793. Museum no 2545 (IS).|
The Tiger comes to London'Tipu's Tiger' is an awesome, life-size beast of carved and painted wood, seen in the act of devouring a prostrate European in the costume of the 1790s. It has cast a spell over generations of admirers since 1808, when it was first displayed in the East India Company's museum. On the dissolution of the Company fifty years later, its properties were transferred to the Crown, and the contents of the museum eventually dispersed to appropriate institutions. The tiger was among items allotted to the Indian Section of the South Kensington Museum, now called the V&A.
|'Tipu's Tiger' (detail showing organ), 1790. Museum no. 2545(IS)|
The Man-Tyger-Organ: A mechanical toyConcealed in the bodywork is a mechanical pipe-organ with several parts, all operated simultaneously by a crank-handle emerging from the tiger's shoulder. Inside the tiger and the man are weighted bellows with pipes attached. Turning the handle pumps the bellows and controls the air-flow to simulate the growls of the tiger and cries of the victim. The cries are varied by the approach of the hand towards the mouth and away, as the left arm - the only moving part - is raised and lowered.
Another pair of bellows, linked to the same handle, supplies wind for a miniature organ of 18 pipes built into the tiger, with stops under the tail. Its structure is like that of European mechanical organs, but adapted for hand operation by a set of ivory button keys reached through a flap in the animal's side. The mechanism has been repaired several times and altered from its original state. It is now too fragile to be operated regularly.
|Unknown, 'Tipu Sultan', about 1790-1800. Museum no. IS.266-1952|
Mysore against the Company
Tipu's father, Haidar Ali, a Muslim of humble origin, had risen to high command in the Mysore army, until by 1762 he was strong enough to unseat the Hindu raja and make himself master of the state. Thus a weak province became one of the strongest and most militant in India.
There followed the four Mysore Wars, during which Tipu succeeded Haidar, and which ended in 1799 with the siege and fall of the capital, Seringapatam, to the British. Tipu died fighting bravely in the struggle for the city, and many of his belongings were seized as trophies in the plundering that ensued. The wooden tiger aroused great interest from the first, and was soon despatched to the Company's museum at the India House in Leadenhall Street, London.
Further adventures of a TigerTipu and his exploits captured the popular imagination in Britain, figuring prominently in art, literature and drama far into the 19th century. Keats, who visited the India House while the tiger was on show there, in Cap and Bells envisaged a personal performance by the Sultan on his Man-Tyger-Organ. The Storming of Seringapatam unleashed a flood of prints and broadsheets. It inspired one of the largest paintings in the world, exhibited in London as a panorama. It was featured as a vast spectacular at Astley's Amphitheatre, and cut down to size for the juvenile drama. As late as 1868 it set the scene for Wilkie Collins's novel The Moonstone.
The Lion of God is the Tiger of MysoreThis enduring fascination can be explained by Tipu's much-publicized tiger mania and anglophobia, twin obsessions which were embodied in the toy tiger. Tigers and tiger symbols adorned most of his possessions, from his magnificent throne to the uniforms of his guards.
His armoury included mortars shaped like sitting tigers, cannon with tiger muzzles, and hand weapons decorated with gold tiger heads, or inlaid in gold with tiger masks formed by an arrangement of Arabic letters meaning The Lion of God is the Conqueror. This text is highly relevant to Tipu's psychology. Victorious Lion of God, and Haidar, meaning a lion, were titles bestowed by the Prophet on the Imam Ali, after whom Tipu's father was named. (Lions and tigers were regarded as interchangeable in such a context.)
|Theatrical print, 1823. Theatre Collection|
English translations of the dreams were published in 1800. By the end of the third Mysore War Tipu had sustained heavy losses in territory and indemnities. He had also been obliged to hand over two of his sons as hostages to the British commander, Lord Cornwallis. The boys had been well treated, even feted, during their two years in Madras, but Tipu never forgot the humiliation. He ordered the walls of houses in Seringapatam to be painted with scenes of tigers mauling Europeans. Live tigers were kept in the city and there were stories of prisoners thrown into the tiger-pits.
A Tiger's Vengeance, or, The Death of MunrowTipu must have been intrigued by a news item widely reported in India and Britain in 1793, only months after he had been compelled to sign the hated Treaty of Seringapatam. A young Englishman out shooting near Calcutta had been carried off by 'an immense riyal tiger...four and a half feet high and nine long', sustaining fatal injuries. The victim was the only son of General Sir Hector Munro, who had been concerned in a crushing defeat inflicted on Haidar and Tipu in the second Mysore War.
Far away in England 'The Death of Munrow' would be commemorated by Staffordshire pottery groups for the cottage chimney-piece; The 'Tiger of Mysore' may have devised a personal and more exotic memento."
|Tipu's Tiger', emblematic organ, 1790. Museum no. 2545(IS)|
Written by Veronica Murphy, 1976, and published in the V&A Masterpieces series. Revised 2006. For an updated history of Tipu Sultan and the Tiger, see Susan Stronge's 'Tipu's Tigers', V&A Publishing, 2009