Bequeathed by Sir Hans Sloane
Ethno SL 5
Africa, Oceania, Americas
India, early 18th century AD
In the footsteps of Sir Hans Sloane
The existence of a number of shoes in the founding collection of the British Museum suggest that Sir Hans Sloane took a particular interest in footwear, though possibly as examples of the use of natural products rather than as actual shoes. This is one of a pair and was noted by Sloane as 'a shoe from Coromandel' on the coast of India.
This type of sandal - one that raises the foot off the ground and has a single knob slipped between the first two toes - exists in a variety of forms and materials throughout India. They might be made in the shape of actual feet, or of fish, for example, and are made of wood, ivory and even silver. They are sometimes elaborately decorated. The more elaborate shoes could be part of a bride's trousseau, but could also be given as religious offerings or be themselves the object of veneration. The representation of footsteps is a manifestation of the presence of Buddha (see, for example, a limestone panel showing the Buddhapada from Amaravati). Plain wooden sandals are associated with the frugal lifestyle of holy men and part of the basic equipment which Buddhist monks should have. This simple wooden form is lacquered and painted with delicate detail; this suggests a more ordinary use, but helps highlight the cultural significance of footwear in India.
J. Jain-Neubauer, Feet and footwear in Indian cu (Toronto, Bata Shoe Museum in association with Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, 2000)
A. MacGregor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane, collector, sc (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)