Spoils of War among the Art Treasures: Exhibiting Empire in Mid-Nineteenth Century Britain

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This essay investigates the assemblage, curation and reception of ‘oriental’ material culture at the Exhibition of Art Treasures of the United Kingdom held in Manchester in 1857. It does so to examine the relationship between exhibitions and empire in the mid-nineteenth century. Going ‘behind the scenes’ of the exhibition, interrogating the provenance of the objects and the actors involved in the assemblage, the essay reveals how some of the objects were infamous spoils of war, a detail omitted from the exhibition narrative as they were recast as ‘art treasures’, generously donated by their British owners for the benefit of the public. In analysing this dynamic, the essay builds on the current scholarship on imperial exhibitions by demonstrating an alternative, more subtle, way in which empire was ‘domesticated’ to British audiences. In addition, the essay challenges our current understanding of imperial exhibitions as masculine endeavours by revealing that Annette Royle played a key role in the curation of ‘oriental’ objects in Manchester, as well as at the other major exhibitions of Indian material culture in this period.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2024


  • Exhibitions
  • mid-nineteenth century
  • empire
  • art treasures exhibition
  • loot
  • Anette Royle


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