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Monumental Imperialism in Ceylon: Celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the Copying of the Sigiriya Frescoes in 1897 by Nishantha de Silva

Abstract: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 likely marked the apogee of the British Empire and was widely celebrated throughout her dominions. On the day of the Jubilee Procession in London, the Legislative Council of Ceylon passed a resolution that a statue of Victoria be erected on the island at public expense. Carved out of Italian marble by British sculptor George Wade, the statue was publicly unveiled in Colombo five years later; it remains one of the city’s finest public artworks from this period and a reminder of British colonial rule. 1897 also marked a significant accomplishment in the colonial state’s archaeological enterprise: as excavations were carried out at the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, its exquisitely painted female figures on frescoes dating to the 5th Century CE were reproduced in facsimile copy by the island’s fledgling Archaeological Survey. This essay contrasts Wade’s statue of Queen Victoria with Archaeological Commissioner HCP Bell’s work at Sigiriya, focusing on his assessment of its frescoes in his “Interim Report on the Operations of the Archaeological Survey at Sigiriya, 1897” to illustrate the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which colonial power was projected in Ceylon close to the end of the Victorian era.

Date created: 
Monday, June 6, 2022
Attribution for this resource:
Monumental Imperialism in Ceylon: Celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the Copying of the Sigiriya Frescoes in 1897 by Nishantha de Silva, All rights reserved.