India is one of the largest silk-producing countries in the world. Silk is produced by boiling silk moth cocoons to release the long fibres the caterpillar made them from. The silk is then spun onto a reel. This caterpillar is probably the South India small tussore moth (Antheraea paphia) which produces ‘tussar’ silk. The fruits of the jujube tree (Ziziphus jujuba) turn red as they ripen and are often dried and candied, used for making teas and have numerous medicinal uses.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the East India Company controlled much of the Indian subcontinent. Keen to exploit and export valuable natural commodities, the Company set out to record the flora of India and commissioned Indian artists to create detailed botanical illustrations. Many of the plants were known through their use in Ayurvedic medicine. One of the world’s oldest medicinal systems, it has been practised in India for 3,000 years.
Company School style paintings became popular with wealthy Europeans. It was not uncommon for East India Company officials (who were not employed as medics or botanists) to build their own personal collections of paintings depicting Indian flora and fauna. We cannot be sure how local amateur botanist Richard Cresswell came by this collection of 86 Company School works. It is possible Henry Creighton commissioned them during his time as a judge in Calcutta and that on his death the works came back to the UK with his daughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.