Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Wendy Singer

Second Advisor

Justin Rivest


In 1763, Jean-Baptiste Gentil began a 12-year service to the Nawab Shuja’ ud-Daula in Awadh. During his service, he also collected and commissioned hundreds of works of art, maps, architectural drawings, and manuscripts. At court, he was a witness and participant in politics as well as an agent of the French empire. He commissioned art from some of the most prominent painters of the day and learned from the subject matter they produced. These collaborations and the ambiguous role he played in the court resulted in a collection of French and Indian-influenced materials. This showed Gentil’s role as an insider and outsider as well as a curious observer. While Gentil’s work was quite revolutionary for the time, one of his contemporaries, a British agent Antoine Polier, engaged in the same process. While both men were motivated to amass personal wealth, these collections reveal Gentil and Polier’s interests in many aspects of Indian art, cultures, histories, and religions. These collections represent a form of knowledge acquisition that involved active participation from Gentil and Polier in conjunction with Indian experts from art, history, and language. Back in Europe, these collections were donated to various institutions, providing the public with a glimpse into Gentil and Polier’s curated visions of India. This thesis presents multiple aspects of the work of Gentil, Polier, and the Indian experts–such as Mihr Chand–who worked with them. The objective is to parse out the multi-cultural influences that can be found in the material culture, revealing what type of information was valued by company men in the eighteenth century and why. In addition, these works provide insight into the relationships between company-men and Indian people before the period of British colonization. Finally, this thesis argues that while these collections were not immediately impactful for French colonizing efforts, they sparked new trends in knowledge acquisition in the colonial space.

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