The influence of empires
It was once said that the “sun never set” on the British Empire.
At its height in the early 1900s CE, its influence had extended across the globe — to varying degrees — for 400 years.
It was one of many empires that flourished during that time, shaping global politics, advancing science and developing influential literary and artistic aesthetics.
Some of them – like those of France and Spain – were European empires. And many arose in Eurasia, like the Ottoman Empire, the Ming and Qing dynastic empires of China, the Safavids in Persia and the Mughals in India.
Like all empires, they fought each other for power, developed thriving, mutually dependent economies, and exchanged knowledge, languages and tastes.
Lewis Evans’ collection included objects that had travelled across those empires.
These two astrolabes were on sale in the antiques shops of early 1900s London. One was made for Shah Abbas II of Persia, and the other crafted in the reign of Shah Jahan of India (who commissioned the Taj Mahal). By the time Evans saw them, they had already changed owners several times.
He was able to buy these precious instruments (and many others) because some of their owners had the fortune — or misfortune — to encounter subjects of the British empire who also wished to acquire them. Whether soldiers, civil servants, scholars or civilians, white British subjects benefited from an imbalance of power.
That means the full history and circumstances surrounding the acquisition of Lewis Evans’ collection are — to say the least — complex.