This flower has long been sacred, both in Buddhist and Hindu religions, signifying purity arising from foul mud. The leaves have a bluish waxy coating, so water runs off, leaving them absolutely clean.
The thick rhizomes of the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) are commonly eaten in Chinese cookery, sliced to show a ring of round holes; the seedheads are used in dried flower arrangements. They are flat-topped, with holes in which the seeds are found. The nut-like seeds can be eaten raw or cooked, or ground into flour and used for moon cake.
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.