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The Brazen Palace, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming (1837-1924)


Signed, inscribed 'Brazen Palace. Anarajapoora. 1600 monoliths. 12 feet above ground in lines of 40 each way. Covering a space of 231 feet square. Also gateway leading to the Bo Tree. Moor men selling goods to pilgrims. Pilgrim's camp of Talliput Palm leaves.' and 'Ark containing a golden lotus blossom. Gateway leading to the most ancient Bo tree.', and dated 'June 16th 73'

Watercolour with bodycolour and pencil

15 ¾ x 24 ½ inches

'Chris Beetles Summer Show', 2020, No 76

Located 127 miles north of Colombo in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, Anuradhapura was Ceylon’s capital city and heart of Theravada Buddhism for over 1,400 years. Though the city fell to the South Indian kingdom of Pandya in the ninth century AD and its great many buildings, monuments and relics ransacked and destroyed, it has remained a sacred site and important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists.

The ‘Brazen Palace’, or Lovamhapaya, was an ancient monastery which stood during the city’s glorious past. It was described as being nine stories high, with each side being 400 feet long. The palace was bedecked in corals and jewels, with a roof covered in copper-bronze plates, which gave it its name. Each storey was said to contain 1,000 rooms, and the whole structure sat upon 40 rows of 40 copper-wrapped stone pillars. Though the palace was destroyed in a fire in the first century BC, it was rebuilt, demolished and rebuilt again multiple times, before its final destruction during the city’s fall. The stone pillars which supported the building and appear in Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming’s watercolour were raised again in the twelfth century and still stand to this day. The small building seen in the centre was a later construction that served as a chapter house for Maha Vihara Buddhists.

Gordon-Cumming’s visit to Anuradhapura in June 1873 was likely to have been linked to early attempts to survey the area, as official British interest in the area had only been registered in 1871. She remains one of the earliest British recorders of Anuradhapura,
as planned excavations of the site did not begin until 1890.

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