How The East India Company Tried To Use Paintings To Lionise Robert Clive – And Failed

The East India Company tried to use marble portrait statues commissioned by the company in 1760, depicting men dressed as Romans, to lionize Robert Clive. However, their attempt failed, as less than a decade later, Robert Clive’s reputation as a hero had collapsed.

During Robert Clive’s lifetime, the East India Company commissioned two portraits showing him as a hero. The first of these, a marble statue of Clive in Roman military costume, was installed in 1764 inside East India House, their headquarters in London. It was one of four marble portrait statues commissioned by the Company in 1760 of men dressed as Romans. These neo-classical statues showed the Company as the conqueror of a new Asian empire, with London at its centre.

Statue of Robert Clive in Roman military costume. Peter Scheemakers, 1764. British Library, Foster 53. Today, the statue is in Britain’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

Less than a decade later, Robert Clive’s reputation as a hero had collapsed. In the late 1760s he returned to Britain, bringing with him a staggering personal fortune that he had amassed in Bengal. Regarded as one of the richest men in Europe, he conspicuously bought properties in England and Wales, and spared no expense on rebuilding and furnishing these new residences. Clive’s spending spree coincided with reports of the Bengal Famine, a catastrophe that killed about 10 million people. The source of Clive’s fortune came under scrutiny and his character was aggressively criticised by the British public.

In May 1771, Town & Country, a satirical magazine, published a searing memoir of Robert Clive which named him “Nero Asiaticus”, who had “fleeced the Asiatics as much as he was able”. This alias compared him to the insane emperor who watched Rome burn to the ground. The comparison was derived from the marble statue of Robert Clive in Roman dress inside East India House.

Rani Velu Nachiyar was the Tamil queen who led an army of women against the East India Company.

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  2. The British gave India a common language, unified it and started to dismantle the caste system, possibly the most hidebound and change-resistant social order on earth. If the region hadn’t been WEAK, commercial pirates like Clive wouldn’t have “had their way” with it. Thanks for a great article!

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