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Van der Schley, Exécution par un elephant, 1750.

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€1.500,00 EUR
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Crushing by elephant and other executions on Sri Lanka


Jakob van der Schley (1715-1779).

1. Exécution par un elephant; 2. Autres supllices.

[The Hague, 1750].

Graphite and ink drawing on slightly blue paper. Mounted on paper support with gilt border. 17,5 x 12,5 cm. (drawing); 24 x 18,5 cm. (mounting).


Preparatory drawing by Jakob van der Schley for his famous print depicting execution methods that were supposedly used on Sri Lanka: crushing by a mounted elephant, impalement and hanging. The print was made by Van der Schley for Antoine Francois Prevost d’Exile’s Histoire Generale des Voyages, published by Pierre de Hondt in The Hague 1746-1789. It is included in volume VIII, where it accompanies the part on Sri Lanka (Ceylon). The part on Sri Lanka was largely derived from Robert Knox’s An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon (1681), which was also illustrated with a plate showing the execution by elephant. Van der Schley modelled his composition after that example, but made drastic artistic improvements. His drawing is of a much higher artistic quality compared to the rudimentary manner in which the execution by elephant was made in Knox’s work. Another difference is the other execution methods that are depicted. In Knox’s illustration the other victim was tied to a pole, but in the present design by Van der Schley one man is impaled and another hung from a tree. He also included dogs about to eat the corpses, for extra gruesome effect.
The image had a strong influence on how the West perceived Sri Lankan and Indian culture. The Histoire Generale des Voyages was the great standard work on non-Western cultures of the Enlightenment, consisting of no less than fifteen folio volumes, all thoroughly illustrated. It was translated into various languages and multiple subsequent editions appeared. The present depiction of cruel executions contributed to the image of a dangerous and savage place. Van der Schley seemed to feel the need to scare his audience even more than his example in Knox’s book did.

Cf. Antoine Francois Prevost d’Exile’s Histoire Generale des Voyages, ou nouvelle collection de toutes les relations de voyages par mer et par terre. The Hague, De Hondt, 1746-1789, volume VIII, plate 3; Robert Knox, An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, London, 1681.

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