Photograph

Polonnaruwa- Audience Hall, overlooking the Túpá-wewa: general view from the north-east; Audience Hall, overlooking the Topa Wewa at Polonnaruwa

1870s (photographed)

Lawton, Joseph

Width: 279 mm photographic print, Height: 210 mm photographic print, Width: 330 mm mount, Height: 263 mm mount

82:695 SSEA

Photograph of the Audience Hall, overlooking the Topa Wewa at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, by Joseph Lawton, albumen print, 1870-1.

Stone pillars and trees on hillside. The stone pillars are the remains of the Audience Hall at Polonnaruwa.

These are the remains of an Audience Hall which would have been used by the kings of Polonnaruwa to hear petitions from the nobles of the kingdom and to meet emissaries from foreign rulers. It over looks the Topa Wewa, a large artificial lake. Polonnaruwa was the medieval capital of Sri Lanka between the 11th and 13th centuries. Joseph Lawton (died 1872), a British commercial photographer, was active in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) between 1866 and1872. Though he was initially employed by the firm HC Bryde, by the mid 1860s he had established his own studio in Kandy. Lawton was commissioned by the Archaeological Committee to photograph the main archaeological sites in Sri Lanka. He created a unique series of aesthetically powerful images of Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. Official photographic surveys conducted by Lawton and other photographers documented the architecture and facilitated antiquarian scholarship. However, as a commercial photographer, Lawton made sure that his photographs were not merely documentary. His images were taken to appeal to tourists and overseas buyers seeking picturesque views of ancient ruins overgrown with creepers and gnarled trees.

This photograph was one of a set purchased by the museum from Lawton and Co. in 1882. See Photograph Register 81259-86096, Modern Volume, 13. The register entry is dated to 24.4.82, and the cost is noted as £16.43.4 The photograph was initially part of the photographic collection held in the National Art Library. The markings on the mount are an indication of the history of the object, its movement through the museum and the way in which it is categorised. The mount is white. On the right hand side is a label which reads: A.in.POLONNARUWA. A label printed with title is pasted underneath the photograph. The title is handwritten on the bottom left hand corner of the mount. The museum number is written in the bottom right hand corner. Historical significance: The Audience Hall stands immediately to the east of the Royal Palace on the shore of a large artificial lake, the Topa Wewa, or Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama), all of which were built by Parakramabahu I (1153-86). The Audience Hall was used by the kings of Polonnaruwa to hear petitions from the nobles of the kingdom and to meet emissaries from foreign rulers. Just north of present-day Polonnaruwa, 140km north of Kandy, are the ruins of ancient Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka between the 11th and 13th centuries. When the Chola kings of southern India invaded Sri Lanka in 993 AD, they conquered the city of Anuradhapura and moved the capital to Polonnaruwa. This was strategically located for defence against attacks from the unconquered Sinhala kingdom of Ruhuna, in the southeast. The Sinhalese ruler Vijayabahu I evicted the Chola in 1070, however, he and his successors kept the capital at Polonnaruwa, adding enormous temples, palaces, parks, gardens and huge tanks. During the 12th century, Parakramabahu I built the Royal Palace and many of the archaeological ruins found at the site originate from this Palace complex, including city walls, clusters of dagobas, temples and various other religious buildings. By the 13th century, attacks from southern India forced the Sinhalese kings to abandon the city, resulting in Kotte (near modern Colombo) and Kandy assuming positions as the centres of power. The architectural structures became overgrown by dense vegetation and it was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that they were uncovered and the sites excavated. The Polonnaruwa Visitor Information Centre and its museum, funded by the Dutch government, were opened in 1998/9 and offer information as to the changing state of the site from that period of excavation to the present.

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website