An orange-red dye is produced when the leaves and young shoots of the henna (Lawsonia inermis) plant are crushed to a powder and mixed with tea and lemon juice. The resulting paste is used as a hair dye and for decorating hands, nails and feet with intricate patterns. Natural or ‘red’ henna is not the same as the black henna used in many temporary tattoos. Black henna contains numerous chemicals and can burn the skin.

In Ayurvedic medicine the roots are regarded as a potent treatment for gonorrhoea and to enhance fertility in women. Leaf and flower infusions are applied externally for ulcers and rheumatism or eaten to treat tetanus, epilepsy, stomach pains, leprosy, jaundice and scurvy.

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.

Some drawings in this collection, including this one are signed on the reverse. The artist’s name, Sheikh Zain al-din, is written in English and Bengali. He is known to have worked for Lady Mary Impey, wife of Sir Elijah Impey the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. It is probable that Creighton and Impey knew each other.
Accession Loan No.
Simple Name
Full Name
Lawsonia spinosa
watercolour on paper
Common Name
Production Person Surname
Zain al-din
Production Country
Period Classification
George III (1760-1811)
Collection Class
Production Area Region
South Asia
Production Continent
Production Year Low
Production Year High
Inscription / Transcription
HERB. MUS. EXON CRESSWELL COLLECTION 19/1927; Lawsonia spinosa = Lawsonia inermislum; No 67
Family Group

total sheet H 552 mm; total sheet length 382 mm
Created At
2016-10-13 16:50:04
Updated At
2020-01-28 11:43:43

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