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This essay explores the representation of India to a British metropolitan audience in the last decades of the eighteenth century, a time of burgeoning orientalist scholarship. Texts and images produced during the period reveal many of the ambiguities and ambivalences in the evolving relationship between Parliament, the East India Company and native Indian rulers. Between 1788 and 1795 these were highlighted dramatically in the impeachment proceedings against Warren Hastings, the Governor-General of the East India Company's possessions. The proceedings coincided with the exhibition and publication in London of a corpus of Indian landscape paintings executed by William Hodges, who had enjoyed Hastings's patronage during and after his travels in India. The article focuses on a number of satirical political prints relating to the impeachment, arguing that they draw upon the sudden influx of graphic information on India as a vehicle for satire while invoking a contemporary penchant for optical devices of various sorts. In doing so, they highlight a contemporary tension between the aesthetic and documentary value of the image, which is often framed in terms of a dialectical opposition between artistic translation and transcription. It is suggested that these images reflect a hermeneutic common to other modes of orientalist production, which effected a domestic inscription of the Orient by finding correspondences between the foreign and the familiar.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: New York University

Publication date: 2006-02-01

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