Urban Ruin: James Baillie Fraser's Representation of the Black Hole Memorial of Calcutta

Sciampacone, Amanda (2011). Urban Ruin: James Baillie Fraser's Representation of the Black Hole Memorial of Calcutta. Third Text, 25(6) pp. 751–762.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09528822.2011.624349

Abstract

In A View of the Writers' Building from the Monument at the West End (1824–1826), James Baillie Fraser depicted the memorial to the Black Hole of Calcutta in ruins before the pristine Georgian façades of the Writers' Building and Saint Andrew's Church. Erected in 1760, the monument commemorated the British citizens who suffocated in a cell after they were captured by the Nawab of Bengal in 1756. Significantly, while earlier British representations present the monument as a marker of the origins of Britain's dominion over Calcutta, Fraser's image of the memorial is far more ambiguous. In Fraser's aquatint, its representation as a picturesque ruin appears to impinge on the very status of Holwell's monument as a memorial. Situated before the buildings that symbolise Britain's power and progress in Calcutta, the decaying monument troubles the scene by recalling the fraught nature of British hegemony in a city poised to become the capital of British India.

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