The roots and flowerbuds of the Egyptian lotus (Nymphaea lotus) are edible, and were eaten particularly in times of famine. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally for a variety of complaints. They contain active chemicals which are said to have psychedelic and aphrodisiac effects.
This is a true waterlily, not to be confused with the sacred lotus. They can be told apart by their leaves: in Egyptian lotus and all true waterlilies, the leaves are split to the stalk, whereas in the sacred lotus there is no split.
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 granddaughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.