Lot 82
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James Prinsep
(1799 - 1840)

Benares Illustrated, in a Series of Drawings

James Prinsep, Benares Illustrated, in a Series of Drawings. By James Prinsep, Esq F.R.S. Lithographed in England, by eminent artists, Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, [1831-]1833

First edition in 3 series
1st series: [18], 40 pages including 11 lithographs mounted on India proof paper with descriptive text for each plate
2nd series: 48 pages including 9 lithographs mounted on India proof paper and 3 engravings with descriptive text for each plate
3rd series: 42 pages including 8 lithographs mounted on India proof paper and 2 engravings with descriptive text for each plate
Original wrappers boxed in a customized half leather with cloth board solander box, gilt leather title ticket pasted on the front board and spine with 5 raised bands
43.5 x 27.5 cm x 1 cm (each)

1st Series: 1. Frontispiece / 2. View from Ugneswur Ghat, Benaras / 3. View Westward from Ghoosla Ghat / 4. Madhoray Ghat and the Minarets / 5. A Preacher expounding the Poorans in the Unna-Pooran Temple / 6. Old Temple of Vishveshvur / 7. Balcony at the Man Mundir / 8. Hindoo Nach Girls / 9. A Morning Concert / 10. Thutheree Bazar / 11. Benaras from the Mundakinee Tulao

2nd Series: 1. View from Punchgunga Ghat / 2. View of the Churn-Padooka on Munikunika Ghat / 3. Rajrajeswuree Ghat / 4. Procession of the Tazeeas / 5. Bruhma Ghat / 6. View of the Man Mundil / 7. Munikurnika Ghat / 8. The Thakoor-Dwaree / 9. Eve of an eclipse of the moon / 10. Ghoosla Ghat (engraving)

3rd Series: 1. Gyan-Bapee Well / 2. Kupuldhara Tulao / 3. Festival of Ram Leela / 4. Bhurut Melao / 5. Lal Shah's tomb and Durgah of Ghazimeea / 6. Dusaswumedh Ghat / 7. Boorwa Mungul (engraving) / 8. Sleeping apartments of Kashmeree Mul's House / 9. Elevation of the temple of Vishveshvur (engraving) / 10. Ruinous Musjifd near Raj Ghat

A rare work of lithographs and engravings by J D Harding, J W Giles, L Haghe, C Hullamandel, W Sharp, William Walton, George Barnard, after drawings by James Prinsep. The lithographic plates were printed at London by Hullmandel and Day and Haghe, but the engravings were probably printed in India, engraved by James's brother William and an Indian engraver, Kasheenath.

Prinsep was an 'A brilliant architect, palaeographer and numismatist' (cf. Abbey Travel, 607). If ever there has been an unsung genius, it is James Prinsep. Born in 1799, he had a short life of only forty years, dying in 1840. And yet, considering his wide variety of interests and his seminal contributions in many of these areas, it can, with some confidence, be stated that he was one of the greatest geniuses born in human history. Thus, he was at the same time a physicist, a chemist, an anthropologist, a geologist, a meteorologist, a numismatist, an epigraphist, a town-planner, a cartographer and an architect - and one may not have exhausted the list. Actually, his one achievement, that of deciphering the Brahmi script, through which India and the world came to know of that unique figure in world history - Emperor Asoka - would have entitled him to a place alongside those of Champollion and Rawlinson, among the greats of intellectual history. And when one considers that James deciphered not one but two ancient scripts - Brahmi and Kharosthi - through which was revealed the existence of a whole line of Indo-Scythian kings, one stands in awe of the man.

He worked at the mint at Benares from 1820 to 1830, when he moved to Calcutta where he remained until his death. He was one of the many sons of an indigo merchant, who was himself assay-master at Benares for many years, where he advised on the construction of the new mint, a church, a bridge and on the improvement of the drainage of the city into the Ganges. He was also instrumental in reforming the system of Indian weights and measures, but his "greatest achievement was to decipher the hitherto unreadable scripts of the most ancient of Indian inscriptions.... In 1822 he had applied his talents in draughtsmanship to a thorough survey of Benares... [and] a series of exquisite watercolours of the monuments and festivals of Benares was sent to London in 1829 to be lithographed. These were published in Calcutta and London between 1830 and 1834 as Benares Illustrated" (ODNB).

R B Wigglesworth (ownership inscriptions)


  Lot 82 of 100  

4-5 MAY 2022


Category: Books


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