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Q: Painting at the Home Office London ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Painting at the Home Office London
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Visual Arts
Asked by: kaiservonbraun-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 31 Aug 2006 05:17 PDT
Expires: 30 Sep 2006 05:17 PDT
Question ID: 761101
I am looking foir either a book, article or anything of the alike
which contains information about a painting which currently hangs on
the Home Office building in London. The Painting is called "The east
offering its riches to Britannia" by Spiridione Roma. I would like to
know as much as from the painting itself which I believe was
comissioned for the East India Company section of the British Empire.
I have looked at the British library but no luck, and some art history
books dont even mention it. I dont know where else to look. Some
people do know about it but never heard much of it, only seen it.

I need as much information, even regarding political affairs of the
Empire with the East at the time if influential beyond the painting's
depictions in it.

Clarification of Question by kaiservonbraun-ga on 31 Aug 2006 05:31 PDT
Sorry, I forgot to add that I will need the sources of your
information as it represents part of the bibliography I have to make.
Thanks for understanding.

Clarification of Question by kaiservonbraun-ga on 31 Aug 2006 10:16 PDT
One more thing I just found out...

This website is the only one that I know that has info on it. Of
course, its not enough. But its not in the Home Office as I mentioned,
I got confused sorry. Its on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Subject: Re: Painting at the Home Office London
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 31 Aug 2006 19:40 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars

Interesting bit of history, there.

The painting you asked about certainly captures the imagination for
its allegorical assertion about the place in the 18th century world of
Britain and the East India Company (EIC).

A great deal has been written about EIC of course, and about this
period in UK history.  But there are only sparse bits of information
on the painting itself.

For starters, the best online image of the painting itself appears to
be this one from the British Library:
The East offering its riches to Britannia. 
...Allegorical ceiling piece commissioned by the East India Company in
1777 for the Revenue Committee Room in East India House. Oil on

This article from The Guardian offers an interesting architectural and
cultural perspective on the painting, its building and its builders:
The Guardian

...'As architectural statements go, the Foreign Office on Whitehall
must be one of the most brazenly self-confident buildings ever
constructed. Its 19th-century bulk is festooned inside and out with
symbols of imperial superiority: marble shipped in from far-flung
dominions; sculptures, carvings and murals representing Britain's
possessions, heroes and virtues; allegorical paintings with titles
such as The East Offering Its Riches to Britannia. This sumptuous
palace designed by George Gilbert Scott, was once the throbbing heart
of the empire, from which British power spread to outposts in
virtually every country on the map. Today, though, the flow has been
reversed. Where Britain's overseas embassies were once the application
points of national might, they are now starting to look like exposed
extremities, and direct channels back to a sensitive homeland.

Here's a bit more on the painting, along with some study notes:
The National Archives
...Notes on: Wall painting from the head offices of the British East
India Company, 1778


This one surprised me.  Some folks suggest that the flag of the EIC,
which can be seen in the painting (on the ship), is the precursor of
the Stars and Stripes of the USA:

...The origin of the Stars and Stripes has been attributed to many
different people and events...Very few people have heard of the
precursor to the Stars and Stripes - the Grand Union Flag. And of
those who have heard of this flag very few are aware that it is the
exact same flag as the flag of the East India Company.

the AMERICAN "STARS and STRIPES"'...Spiridione Roma's mural in the
Foreign and Commonwealth office


The painting is cited in this article, but I do not have access to its
full text, thus do not know the context in which it's discussed. 
Nevertheless, I wanted to point it out:
The Historical Journal (2005), 48: 703-742 Cambridge University Press 

A librarian may be able to get you a copy of this.

You can read a few pages on the painting, EIC, and the context of the
times at the link from Google Books:
British Sculpture and the Company Raj: Church Monuments and Public
Statuary in Madras, Calcutta,...
By Barbara S Groseclose
...This book looks at the complicated ways that sculptures sent to
India from London during the heyday of the East India Company invoked
and ensured a rationale for the British presence in India.


Oddly, there is a similarly titled, and similarly designed image that
preceded the "East offering..." painting by quite a few years, and is
thought to be the inspiration for it:
...The former India Office is one of the most opulent parts of the FCO
buildings...Above the fireplace can be found a carved overmantel by
Michael Rysbrack dating from 1730 depicting "Britannia receiving the
riches of the East Indies". In the carving, behind the figure of
Britannia stand two female figures symbolising Asia and Africa. Asia
is shown leading a camel and Africa a lion.
...The India Office Council Chamber, with marble chimneypiece by
Michael Rysbrack dating from 1730. This depicts Britannia receiving
the riches of the East.
[You can see the image of the chimneypiece very faintly here, but you
can make out the resemblance to Roma's painting]


The links below are to books available at  If you are
registered at Amazon (there is no charge) you can actually search
inside the text of the books, and see the pages related to the
painting (much as with the Google Books link that I gave you earlier):
A Concise History of India 
Barbara D. Metcalf

...In a chapter on "The emergence of regional states and the East
India Company", the authors discuss the rise of the East India Company
even in spite of the emerging might of the Mughal Empire in India. 
The context of the companies trade and increasing economic might is
discussed, and the painting is referenced several times.  The
companies policies in India were referred to as "military fiscalism"
by the authors.
Europe and the World, 1650-1830 
Jeremy Black 

Discusses the painting in the context of the EIC's advernturism in
Asia, and the UK's prominence in world trade.


I trust this information fully answers your question.  

However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need.  If you would like any additional information, just post a
Request for Clarification to let me know how I can assist you further,
and I'm at your service.

All the best,


search strategy -- searched Google, Google Scholar, Google Books, and several scholarly and art history databases for [ "east
offering its riches" ]
kaiservonbraun-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Thanks so much for the information. I have certainly kept looking
myself after posting it online at google and yet no luck. I can see
the british library only had a reproduction of it and no information
on it whatsoever.

At the beginning for some reason I thought I may have seen African
delivering the goods to Britannia, which lead me to the mantelpiece
carving at the FCO which you mentioned. What is funny though is that
from the sources you mentioned I still dont remember where I saw this
painting. I remember seeing it in front of me, but you cant tear the
ceiling apart and showcase it, can you? I dont remember seeing it in
any book at all, yet the books you mentioned are not books I remember
seeing. I am sure I can use most of your answer on my research on
history, political influences and the such in art.

So it seems, like the Catholic church in its days, the painting was
comissioned especially for the EIC.

Thank you again

Subject: Re: Painting at the Home Office London
From: myoarin-ga on 01 Sep 2006 08:23 PDT
K. vB.,
I expect that you did see the painting in front of you, and not on the ceiling.
Although it is explained that it is a painting on canvas FOR the
ceiling, the first, best photo that Pafalafa linked does not show it
on a ceiling, but detached, and from the shadows, I would say in a
horizontal position.
If it is in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, built 1866 and
following, the painting has obviously been moved.

One could speculate if the F&C took it as a prize after the "Mutiny"
in 1857, which led to the demise of the EIC and the Crown's
appropriation of the Company's properties.  What more symbolic
Subject: Re: Painting at the Home Office London
From: kaiservonbraun-ga on 01 Sep 2006 09:57 PDT
Thanks mate, but I think that it is actually still on a ceiling.
Because if you see around it (the shadows dont matter much in this
case as they can be place there by a source of light on one side
stronger than another) it looks like pilars conecting to a ceiling.

Anyone here with me?

Subject: Re: Painting at the Home Office London
From: myoarin-ga on 01 Sep 2006 11:03 PDT
Not to argue, but I think you should trust your recollection of having
seen the picture before you.  The photo from the British Library looks
to me that it shows the painting resting on folded cloth on the floor
with a wall behind it, probably taken in a restoration studio.
One can, indeed, remove a painting on canvas from a ceiling.  The
canvas is framed as well as it can be, but with time the wait of the
paint causes it to sag.  I have seen such in Europe.   (Of course, a
fresco or painting on the plaster is a different situation.)
Ceiling paintings all the places (churches and castles) and in all the
pictures I have seen are mounted flush with ceiling and surrounded by
carved plaster or the like.  Here is a good photo:

Cheers, hope you find solid information.
Subject: Re: Painting at the Home Office London
From: myoarin-ga on 02 Sep 2006 04:57 PDT
Here is a new tree to bark up, the Government Art Collection:

However, Roma Spiridione is not listed among the artists.

Here is another site with an illistrated article by Nick Robins on the painting:

The site could be contacted for more information.

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