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Monday, 30 July 2012

CULTURE: The Victoria & Albert Museum

The V&A in London had become a sad and dingy place filled with treasures.  It is now all any museum should be and the Mediaeval and Rennaissance galleries are glorious...

...and no visit is complete without a seeing Tipu Sahib and 'Tippoo's Tiger', who used to lie meeting his maker on a stone floor but is now contained by glass [these galleries are unfortunately substandard compared to later installations]

The Man-Tyger-Organ: A mechanical toy

Concealed in the bodywork is a mechanical pipe-organ with several parts, all operated simultaneously by a crank-handle emerging from the tiger's shoulder. Inside the tiger and the man are weighted bellows with pipes attached. Turning the handle pumps the bellows and controls the air-flow to simulate the growls of the tiger and cries of the victim. The cries are varied by the approach of the hand towards the mouth and away, as the left arm - the only moving part - is raised and lowered.
Another pair of bellows, linked to the same handle, supplies wind for a miniature organ of 18 pipes built into the tiger, with stops under the tail. Its structure is like that of European mechanical organs, but adapted for hand operation by a set of ivory button keys reached through a flap in the animal's side. The mechanism has been repaired several times and altered from its original state. It is now too fragile to be operated regularly.

Tipu (Tipu Sahib to his European contemporaries) was Sultan of Mysore in South India from 1782-99. The painted wooden casing of his tiger is unmistakably Indian, but there are indications that the mechanism came from a European hand. A French source seems likely, as many French artisans were employed in the Sultan's workshops under Citizen Tipu's unofficial alliance with the Revolutionary government. Other Indian potentates also collected musical automata, which were fashionable at the time; what makes this one so interesting is its uniquely personal significance for the owner

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