To mark the start of the UK-India year of culture 2017, January’s Artwork of the Month depicts the reception of the first British diplomatic representative on the Indian subcontinent.
The painting shows the English politician and diplomat Sir Thomas Roe MP (1581-1644) being received by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1616.
Painted by the distinguished artist William Rothenstein (1872-1945), it was unveiled 90 years ago this year as part of The Building of Britain series in St Stephen’s Hall.
This programme of large mural paintings charts British history through eight important events painted by eight leading artists.
Roe’s reception at the Mughal court was chosen because the Jacobean diplomat succeeded ‘by his courtesy and firmness at the Court of Ajmir in laying the foundation of British influence in India’.
Sir Thomas Roe’s embassy
Roe was sent to India by King James I in 1614 to establish diplomatic relations with the Mughal Empire, which ruled over 70% of the subcontinent.
The East India Company had recently established England’s first presence in India with a factory at Surat. Roe’s main task was to seek Jahangir’s support for this venture and negotiate a treaty enabling further trade.
By the end of his period as ambassador in 1618, Roe had secured English commercial access to Jahangir’s dominions, though a formal treaty was never signed.
UK/India 2017 is a year-long programme that will mark the 70th anniversary of Indian independence by celebrating the historical and cultural ties between the UK and India.
Throughout 2017, a series of cultural events and activities will take place in both countries.
Image: Detail of ‘Sir Thomas Roe at the Court of Ajmir’ by William Rothenstein, oil on canvas, 1927 (WOA 2598)