Permanent Collection: Indian Silver

  • These rosewater sprinklers are reminiscent of a pair of foraging pea hens
  • Detail of wing
  • Detail of wing
  • A peahen
  • Detail of wing
  • Detail of wing
  • The heads unscrew in the Indian manner

Pair of Silver Gilt Rosewater Sprinklers in the form of Pea Hens, India, C17th - C18th

Height: 20cms

Exceptionally fine and very rare, this pair of silver gilt pea hens are some of the most unusual and striking rose water sprinklers or gulab pash we have ever seen.  Peacocks are the national bird of India.  The more subtly coloured female peahen has a dull brown plumage, her natural ornamentation being restricted to a prominent crest and green neck feathers.  Here the silversmith has enhanced nature with a striking display of craftsmanship of very high quality.

Living mainly on the ground or in open forest land, the omnivorous peafowl live by foraging in small groups for grain, berries and little creatures, retreating into the forest for safety when not feeding.  Elegantly presented as a pair which has survived together, these rosewater sprinklers are reminiscent of such a foraging group.

These peahens appear to break with an earlier tradition of more highly stylised avian subjects in Indian metalwork, often in the form of aquamaniles, lamps and incense burners, mostly executed in brass.  For examples of such pieces, see Zebrowski (ch. 5).

The neck and head of each bird detaches, screwing off clockwise in the Indian manner, and facilitating a different positioning of the heads as required.  Each bird carries the typical head crest, while their necks and wings are deeply repoussed and chased with a range of floral, foliate and avian designs, perhaps representing birds in a forest, a traditional subject in Mughal and Persian painting.  The pieces stand unaided on three toed feet, while the rear of each bird is further decorated with a cone of clearly defined feathers.  The crests, legs and feet all show signs of previous gilding.  Each beak has a single hole through which rosewater may be sprinkled.  Whilst we have seen more traditionally shaped gulab pash decorated with figural peafowl elsewhere, both as bird forms and as rosewater sprinklers, these would appear to be unique.

With the rose a beloved cultivar of the Mughals, rosewater was used in courtly rituals, to welcome guests after travel, in religious practices, and at weddings and similarly important occasions.

These birds were acquired in India towards the end of the C19th and held in the property of an English family thereafter, until coming to us in 2008 through a London dealer.  This said, the pieces appear to be significantly older than this date suggests.  Representations of birds, including peahens, are frequent in Mughal textiles and miniature paintings from the C16th and 17th onwards.  Among the earliest uses on silverware of motifs similar to those of our pieces is a C17th Goan Portuguese jug featured in Terlinden (p.113).  Similar in decorative conception is a partly gilt silver flask from North India dated to the mid C17th in Zebrowski (p.39).  Also close in style to our piece are the inlaid enamel birds of a late C18th silver huqqa bowl featured in both Michel (p.251) and Zebrowski (p.85).  Michel attributes the piece to Lucknow, Zebrowski more broadly to North India.

An alternative attribution for the pea hens might be to Rajasthan.  Rajasthan under the Rajputs maintained a semi-autonomous political relationship by turns with the Mughals and then with the British.  Peafowl were  no strangers to its arts, with parties of foraging birds apparent in a number of royal paintings from Jodhpur (Diamond, Cats. 24, 25, 27 and 28), while Zebrowski features an early C18th enamelled gold huqqa from Mewar (p.63-64) on which crested birds fly between extended foliate and floral designs, in the company of angels.  A lesser, undated Rajasthani example is shown in Pathak, (p.16), again featuring birds and foliate designs as part of a forest hunting scene.

References and sources:
Diamond, D. and others, Garden and Cosmos - The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, (Washington D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 2008; London: Thames & Hudson, 2008).
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Pathak, S. K., Indian Silver, (New Delhi: Roli Books, 2008).
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, (XVI-XIXth C.), ([n.p.]: Antalga, 1987).
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC9

 

Silver and Agate Hinged Box, Kashmir, Circa 1880 - 1890

This hinged silver box is a fine example of late C19th Kashmiri silverwork.  The most notable feature of the box is its lid; a sheet of rust red and creamy white agate, beautifully polished, bevelled at the edges and translucent when held to the light.  The box carries no clasp or fastner, the lid being secured solely via two hinges, fitting snugly into place, and opening and closing easily.  The body of the box is of simple and straightforward construction.

Decoratively, Kashmiri silversmiths drew freely on the natural world around them, and this piece is no exception.  All sides of the box are decorated in the ‘rosette’ or coriander leaf style common in chased and repoussed Kashmiri silverwork.  Again, all sides carry a tree of life motif bearing a range of flowers and leaves which fill all the available space on each panel.  Overall, a number of flower designs are present, some of which may be of the poppy in addition to the various representations of coriander blossoms. 

Kashmiri silverwork was an important element of Indian ‘Raj’ silver, which developed in a number of regional styles from the later C19th to serve the colonial and home British and European markets, and was perhaps second only to Cutch silver in its popularity.  The Kashmir trade was dominated by merchant middlemen, the silversmiths working with only the simplest of tools and rarely meeting their clients.  These merchants took great care to promote their offerings, and Kashmiri silverware featured frequently in European as well as sub-continental exhibitions.

The piece probably dates 1880 – 1890.  Another example of Kashmiri silverwork can be seen elsewhere in our collection (GNC10).

References and sources:
Dehejia, V. and others, Delight in Design - Indian Silver for the Raj, (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 2008; Ocean Township, NJ: Granta Publishing, 2008).
Wilkinson, W. R. T., Indian Silver 1858 - 1947, (London: Wynyard R. T. Wilkinson, 1999).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC14

  • The modelling of the seed pods on their budded twig is very naturalistic
  • The leaves contain two dimensional representations of chinar seed pods and poppy seed pods as if seen from above
  • Plane tree leaves and seed pods
  • The complex decoration of the leaves is in the rosette style and is reminiscent of earlier Mughal tree of life and single plant designs

Pair of Silver Plane Tree Leaf Sweetmeat Dishes, Kashmir, Circa 1880

Length: 21cms, Span:16cms

This pair of Kashmiri sweetmeat dishes is a very fine example of its kind.  They are formed in the manner of chinar or plane tree leaves, plane trees having been introduced to Kashmir by the Mughals some centuries before.  In addition to the leaf shaped body, each dish has a finely modelled handle in the form of a budded twig, which curls back to finish in a cluster of seed pods, the handles being adjoined to the leaves by means of soldering and a pin.

The chased decoration of the pieces has been carried out with great skill.  Each leaf carries the repoussed representation of a single plant, the stems of which represent the veins of the leaf, whilst recalling both the tree of life and single plant motifs of Mughal art and architectural decoration.

The field of the leaves, interspersed between the veins, is decorated in the ‘rosette’ or coriander leaf style of Kashmiri silverwork, though with a number of variants perhaps representing two dimensional seed pods and views of poppy seed pods from above.  Each leaf carries a slim decorative border bearing a simple repeated pattern.

The modelling of the twigs, buds and leaves is highly naturalistic in style.  Of their type, the pieces are relatively large.

Kashmiri silverwork was an important element of Indian ‘Raj’ silver, which developed in a number of regional styles from the later C19th to serve the colonial and home British and European markets, and was perhaps second only to Cutch silver in its popularity.  The Kashmir trade was dominated by merchant middlemen, the silversmiths working with only the simplest of tools and rarely meeting their clients.  These merchants took great care to promote their offerings, and Kashmiri silverware featured frequently in European as well as sub-continental exhibitions, fairs and fashionable shops, perhaps as Wilkinson suggests, influencing designers such as William Morris.  Another example of Kashmiri silverwork can be seen elsewhere in our collection (GNC14).

The pieces probably date from around 1880.

References and sources:
Dehejia, V. and others, Delight in Design - Indian Silver for the Raj, (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 2008; Ocean Township, NJ: Granta Publishing, 2008).
Wilkinson, W. R. T., Indian Silver 1858 - 1947, (London: Wynyard R. T. Wilkinson, 1999).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC10

  • This thali can be read as a representation of an architectural tank or basin
  • The central lotus motif
  • Lotus blossom on a pond
  • An inscription in Devanagari

Mughal Silver Thali, India, C18th - C19th

Diameter: 30cms, Depth: 4cms

This is an unusually heavy, deep and large dish (thali) weighing almost a kilogram.  The design is focussed on a central lotus motif as if seen from above, surrounded by a series of concentric decorations extending outwards to the edge of the base.  The most important of these are in the form of a stylised circle of overlapping leaves, and a further band of raised flutes, fanning out from the central flower.  The sides of the bowl add further decoration with an unusual, deep double honeycomb pattern, above and below which sits a rippling, wave like pattern around the inside of the rim and the outside of the base.

Whilst the lotus is a common decorative form throughout Mughal art, the honeycomb pattern is unusual.  It begs comparison with two large silver gilt Central Indian or Deccani thalis of the C17th and C18th, featured in Terlinden, albeit the current piece does not appear as fine, and even to a mid C18th central or northern bidri tray found in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  Such design appears relatively rare in later thalis, arguing for a similar date for this piece.

This dish can be read as a representation of an architectural tank or basin.  The waterborne lotus sits in splendour in the centre, surrounded by floating foliage and representations of water, whilst the honeycomb pattern defines the water’s edge. 

Such pools, which also show an affinity with the Terlinden thalis above, can be seen in white marble in the Rang Mahal in the Red Fort in Delhi (Michel, p.280), and in a fountain basin in the fort at Lahore (Lehrman, p.174).  See also a pietra dura marble fountain, lot 211, Southeby's Arts of the Islamic World Sale, London, 24th April 2013, which bears a striking resemblance to our object.  Similarly, the dish has some distant commonality of form with a Deccani brass bowl shown in Zebrowski (p.174), which itself has much in common with the acquatic features of its regional decorative architecture.

A small inscription has been added to the outside rim of the bowl, in Devanagari script, which reads ‘Nayna Ingle’ and is dated 19-2-82.  This is probably an ownership mark added later or when the item was given as a gift or inherited.  It may refer to either 1772 or 1872.

Whatever its later life, the thali may well have been used originally at courtly banquets.  Terlinden quotes the Akbarnama as referring to no fewer than five hundred different dishes being considered essential to the daily meals at the royal table, with each guest being served with their own thali, made of silver or gold.

References and sources:
Dye, J.M. III., The Arts of India - Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2001).
Lehrman, J., Earthly Paradise - Garden and Courtyard in Islam, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980).
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, (XVI-XIXth C.), ([n.p.]: Antalga, 1987).
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC17

  • The partially gilded finial is decorated in the style of an Ottoman turban
  • Engraved portrait of Sultan Orhan Gazi sporting an Ottoman turban
  • The cartouches are unusual in Cutch silverware, and reminiscent of a more Islamic style of decoration

Silver and Gold Coffee Pot, Cutch, India, Circa 1870

Height: 22 cms

This unusual and attractive coffee pot is historically important.  In addition to its popularity in India, Cutch silverware was frequently made for export to the west, appearing in the catalogues of Liberty & Co. of Regent Street, Proctor & Co. of Oxford Street, and similar outlets in Europe and America.  This said, it is rare to find Indian Cutch silver work designed for export to the Ottoman or Middle Eastern market.  The form of the coffee pot is very much in the style of coffee pots encountered in Turkey, north Africa and the Middle East, though such objects, even when imported, were ordinarily of brass.  No other published South Asian export coffee pot that we have seen, either silver or brass, approaches this one for its quality.

In construction, the pot consists of the body with its extended Arabic spout, the handle, and an elaborate, hinged lid.  Both the handle and the lid are partially affixed through a series of screw pins which stand out from the body of the piece.  The extended bottom of the lid fits snugly into the body and the hinge works extremely smoothly, underlining the quality of manufacture.  The lid is surmounted with a glorious multi-level, partially gilded finial in the form of an Ottoman style turban, which in turn sits on a pedestal decorated with a band of applied thin gold or gilt.

The golden and Islamic themes are carried through into the decoration of the body. A further gold or gilt band, held in place with tiny silver pins, encircles the body of the coffee pot just above the waist.  Meanwhile, a principal decorative feature of the body is a series of symmetrical cartouches reminiscent of a more Islamic decorative style.  Both features are extremely rare, if not unique, in Cutch silver.

In keeping with the Cutch style, the coffee pot is densely decorated with a series of scrolling foliate and floral designs within and surrounding the cartouches, on the sides of the spout and in two further bands at the base and around the upper surface of the lid.  Possibly modelled on acanthus leaves, each area of decoration is separated from its neighbours both by very delicate beading, and by further bands of silver either left undecorated, or populated with a range of repeated geometric or floral motifs.  The geometric decoration extends further to the underside of the spout and the handle.  The base of the piece is plain silver.

The unusul nature of both the form and decoration together with the quality of the piece lead us to date the coffee pot to 1870 - 1880, when the style and manufacture of Cutch silver was already well developed, but before it became thoroughly commercialised in a series of western forms.  Hence we attribute the piece to Bhuj, the capital of Cutch, which was the only place Cutch silverware was made at those dates, with just ten families practicing the art.

The silver employed in Cutch work was normally of a very high quality, somewhere between 95% and 98% silver, and therefore higher than the sterling standard of 92.5% used in Great Britain.  This high level of purity meant that the silver was easily malleable, and in order to decorate a piece, silversmiths would punch their designs inwards rather than outwards, the piece being filled with a mixture of wax and resin to absorb the impact of the silversmith’s tools.  This process, with the consequent heating and cooling, might be repeated up to three times to achieve the desired result.

In the latter part of the C19th, there was a well established traffic across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, drawing on centuries old networks of trade and Hajj routes plied by Ottomans, Arabs, Indians and westerners alike.  Much of the bullion used in the manufacture of Cutch silver wares was imported from Mecca, the ‘Swahili Rand’ (East Africa) and Zanzibar as well as Bombay, underlining the links between North West India and the Middle East and Africa.  It is perhaps unsurprising to find occasional pieces making the return journey.  For another object combining Indian and Middle Eastern influences, please see elsewhere in our collection (GNC13).

References and sources:
Dehejia, V. and others, Delight in Design - Indian Silver for the Raj, (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 2008; Ocean Township, NJ: Granta Publishing, 2008).
Hajj - Journey to the Heart of Islam, ed. Porter, V., and others, (London: British Museum Press, 2012).
Wilkinson, W. R. T., Indian Silver 1858 - 1947, (London: Wynyard R. T. Wilkinson, 1999).

Provenance:  The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC6

 

  • The Tomb of Humayun in Delhi
  • A single plant image reminiscent of architectural decoration
  • Marble inlay work on the cenotaphs of Shivpuri

Mughal Silver Pandan, India, C18th - C19th

Height: 13.5cms

This domed, circular Mughal paan box or pandan is of strikingly architectural form and decoration, capturing as it does a sense of the domed tombs and palaces of the sub-continent.  The architectural inspiration for the object is evident from a simple comparison with extant structures, for example the mausolea of Humayun and Isa Khan in Delhi.

The pandan rests on a base of six decorated hollow silver pillars, each topped with a small lotus form finial.  The pillars are joined by a series of very gently curving panels, which together support the lower portion of a bulbous dome.  The object is finished with a snugly fitting lid, in the form of a stylised lotus plant and finial flower, which can be removed and replaced with ease.

The finely chased panels located between the pillars display a central flower of eight petals surrounded by further foliage and flowers.  The body and the base of the dome are separated by two layers of lotus leaves.  Above these, the dome carries the finest chasing on the object in a further series of panels reminiscent of arched and lobed architectural niches.  Within each of these stands a highly ornamented single plant motif, surrounded by further scrolling foliage, spouting in each case from a single pot, the spaces between the panels being further decorated in a similar style.

Above, the lid's splaying lotus leaves alternate between simple and feathered decoration, before finishing in a finial of further ornament. 

Michel (p.190-193) has commented that the use of similar single flowering plant in pot motifs in arched frames was a feature of printed cotton hangings from the C17th onwards, showing examples with some similarity to ours, especially in their great concern for symmetry and balance.  Such designs are also frequently represented in architectural decoration, perhaps most famously in and on the great Taj Mahal.

Notwithstanding these allusions, the dating of the current piece is difficult, reflecting as it does a range of key Mughal design features which stood the test of time, and we have therefore suggested C18th to first half of C19th as a possible range.  Objects of modest similarity to our own are dated to the early C19th and 1810 in Terlinden (pp.145-146).

References and sources:
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, (XVI-XIXth C.), ([n.p.]: Antalga, 1987).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC7

 

  • Detail of lock and running antelope or gazelles
  • On the near part of the lid creatures including a stag flee the prowling lion
  • Open with tray in place
  • Tray
  • Detail of chase scene and foliate designs on tray: Dimnah being pursued by the lion?
  • Tray set into lid to reveal inner compartments
  • Tray set into lid to reveal inner compartments
  • Components of paan
  • Components of paan

Mughal Silver Pandan Box, Persianate Influence, India, C18th

Height excluding handle: 7cms, Width: 16cms, Depth: 11.5cms

This beautiful silver box or pandan was made for the keeping of paan, most probably in the C18th.  It is in the form of an octagonal silver box, and represents a development from an earlier form of pandan.  Rather than consisting of a single chamber for the keeping of prepared quids of paan, this box contains a number of separate compartments, each of which would have contained one of the many possible components of paan.  In this case, the lid of the pandan can be lifted to reveal an inset tray, used to hold the betel leaves in the preparation of the paan, and five further compartments of varying sizes, each with its original lid.

The social chewing of paan was and is popular in the Indian sub-continent, providing for a mildly narcotic effect on the user.  Terlinden quotes Edward Moore (an indologist and soldier of the East India Company) who in 1794 suggested that the compartments of a pandan might contain ‘sooparee (areca nut) sliced, the cardamom....the loong or clove, and the chuna (lime), together with a small spoon for the purpose of taking out the ingredient’.  Cured tobacco and other substances were also sometimes used.

Our example combines some unusual aspects of manufacture and design.  It has a hasp and staple mechanism to the front, allowing for the box to be locked with a small padlock.  In addition, the box carries a hinged handle affixed to the lid via two stylised lotus buds, which enables the box to be picked up and carried without being held directly in the hand.

Decoratively, the pandan eschews both the openwork and filigree decoration often apparent on similar padans of this period in favour of a series of lightly chased animal, floral and foliate designs.  A repeated, scrolling foliate pattern of richly laden grapevines adorns a narrow band around the base of the box, the outer surface of the lid and the edge of the top of the lid.  Within these confines, no fewer than sixteen beautifully chased creatures roam a forest landscape of lightly chased trees, flowers and grasses.  Lion, jackal, antelope or gazelle, peacock and other birds are all among the menagerie on display.

Within, these themes are continued with further creatures represented on the surface of the tray, surrounded by similar foliate designs.  The foliate motifs are repeated on the lids of the internal compartments, each of which is topped by a further lots bud finial handle.

Grape laden vines similar in design to those appearing here were a feature of Mughal architectural design (see Michel, p.169).  A more important influence on this pandan, however, derives from the tradition of animal forest scenes in Persian and Mughal painting, textile design and other arts.  Groups of animals, often pursuing one another, being hunted by emperors, princes and heroes or in unfeasibly peaceful combinations of species, set in a range of different landscapes, are a major theme in Persian and Mughal miniature painting.  In addition to Michel’s examples (p.242), Grabar shows big cats and wolves supporting Hushang in his battle with the Black Demon in a C16th Shahnameh (p.70) while Canby has a C14th Dimnah the Jackal (p.34).  These scenes, as with other subjects in Persian and Mughal painting, often have a literary inspiration, and this influence may also have extended into metalwork.  Canby's jackal is very similar to a jackal like creature appearing on our pandan, depicted as being chased by a lion, and it may be that our silversmith took his original inspiration in the stories of Kalilah and Dimnah.  Whatever may be the case in this instance, the theme of creatures depicted against landscape is an important one, and the decorative aspects of our piece can be seen as a variant of this artistic tradition.

References and sources:
Canby, S., Persian Painting, (London: The British Museum, 1993).
Grabar, O., trans. Grabar, T., Mostly Miniatures - An Introduction to Persian Painting, (Woodstock, Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press, 2000).
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, (XVI-XIXth C.), ([n.p.]: Antalga, 1987).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC11