10 things to know about the return of objects to Sri Lanka

From the series 10 things...

The Rijksmuseum is returning the cannon of Kandy and five other objects to Sri Lanka, after the Committee for Colonial Collections established that these artefacts were looted. Read on for 10 things to know about the restitution of these items.

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Cannon of Kandy

The cannon came from the palace of the king of Kandy, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). It owes its fame is to its ornate decorations – it is made of bronze, silver and gold, and inlaid with rubies.

Kanon, anonymous, before 1745

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Symbols

The symbols on the barrel of the cannon – a half-moon and a Sinhalese lion – stand for the king of Kandy.

Kanon, anonymous, before 1745

Laadstok bij Singalees kanon of Lewuke's kanon Laadstok bij Singalees kanon of Lewuke's kanon

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Ceremonial function

The function of this small but striking cannon was probably ceremonial. It was possibly used for gun salutes to welcome visitors to the king.

Laadstok bij Singalees kanon of Lewuke's kanon, anonymous, 1745

VOC lantaarn VOC lantaarn

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Looting

A year after a failed attack on Kandy by troops of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), in 1765 they managed to penetrate this centre of the king’s power. They set about looting the palace and the city itself. Their booty included the cannon, along with many items of costly jewellery, and weapons.

VOC lantaarn, anonymous, 1700 - 1800

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Cabinet of curiosities

The cannon was taken back to the Dutch Republic and given to the country’s leader: William V, Prince of Orange. He kept it in his cabinet of curiosities in The Hague. The cannon has been part of the Rijksmuseum collection since around 1800.

Kanon, anonymous, before 1745

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Investigation

In 2017, Rijksmuseum curators and external specialists started an investigation into the origin of objects in the Rijksmuseum collection that have a colonial context. It is being carried out in close collaboration with partners in the countries of origin.

Dolk (pihiya), voor 1765. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. Bruikleen van de Democratische Socialistische Republiek Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka submitted an application in 2022 for the repatriation of six objects from Kandy. The Colonial Collections Committee responded by advising the minister responsible to return these objects, and on 6 July 2023 the minister decided to do so.

Kastane met schede uit Kandy, voor 1765, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. Bruikleen van de Democratische Socialistische Republiek Sri Lanka

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Multiple objects

The total of six objects that are being restituted to Sri Lanka comprise the cannon, two guns, two swords and a dagger.

Kastane met schede uit Kandy, voor 1765. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. Bruikleen van de Democratische Socialistische Republiek Sri Lanka

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New display

Although the six objects from Kandy are to return to Sri Lanka, we will continue to focus attention on the historical relations between the Netherlands and Sri Lanka – the Dutch East India Company did occupy key areas of the island for more than 150 years, after all.

Het Gouverneurshuis met de tuin te Colombo, Cornelis Steiger, 1710

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Watercolours

Included in the new display are six watercolours painted in Sri Lanka by Cornelis Steiger around 1710. They will offer visitors a general impression of the Dutch presence on the island in the 18th century.

Fort Caliture, gezien van de rivier, Cornelis Steiger, ca. 1710