Permanent Collection: Thalis, Dishes and Bowls

  • 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 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

 

 

Silver Inlaid Brass Bowl, Central Asia, Possibly Bukhara, C18th - C19th

Diameter: 17cms, Height: 8.5cms

This object consists of two parts; a bowl and a separate stand, both of which are made of brass and inlaid with silver.

The form of the bowl comprises two silver inlaid, gently sloping shelves separated by a narrow round of undecorated brass, which descend from the outer rim of the vessel, to a deeper well which falls away at the bowl’s centre.  The underside of the bowl is cast with a flattened circular plane which allows the bowl to sit comfortably on its base. 

The base itself is formed as a round platform to support the bowl, sitting on a sloping, silver inlaid vertical which finishes in a flat, metalwork circle.

This is an intriguing object, both due to its size and the combination of decorative features it bears.  While the size and, to a degree, the shape of the bowl suggest a likeness to the spittoons of Mughal India, the bowl’s decoration clearly suggests a Central Asian origin is more likely.  This example may be a smaller variation of the bowls sometimes associated with Central Asian ewers, of which examples are given in Kalter & Pavaloi, Abdullayev and Westphal-Hellbusch & Bruns.  Indeed, the bowl may formerly have had a grille or mesh fitted over its well, in keeping with such objects, though it is probably wrong to see this as part of a bowl and ewer washing set: the well of the bowl is smaller than those apparent in the sources, and it would be difficult to conceive of a lost, small ewer being associated with the bowl.

The principal decoration of the piece draws its motifs from two characteristically Silk Road styles.  The interior of the bowl carries two concentric rings of inlaid silverware, the outer a series of interlocking arches, the inner a more elaborate band featuring an arabesque of split leaf palmettes and other floral designs.  The latter is directly in the Timurid tradition, excellent examples being shown in Komaroff (fig. 42 and catalogue item 12).  The outside of the bowl, conversely, features a pattern of Buddhist designs, alternating between an endless knot and a (possibly floral) derivative of the wheel.  Similar designs are apparent in Central Asian metalwork, for which see Kalter & Pavaloi, (figs. 188-90) for a C15th, possibly Bukharan example, and again see Komaroff, (figs. 23, 24 and 26) for probably earlier examples in the State Hermitage and the Louvre.

The upper part of the base continues this mix of cultures, carrying a fuller wheel at its centre, surrounded by a series of foliate designs.  These in turn are repeated on the exterior of the base in inlaid silver, above a further band of densely inlaid silver of more Islamic design.

Interestingly, the silver inlaid pattern of overlapping arches on the edge of the bowl also appears on bowls illustrated in Westphal-Hellbusch, and the similar pattern surrounding the lotus motif on the heavy silver thali elsewhere in our collection (GNC17), suggesting an association of this motif with water in both instances. 

The specific dating and placing of this object is difficult.  Typically, Central Asian bowl and ewer sets are dated to the C18th or C19th, examples of which are shown in Kalter & Pavaloi and Abdullayev attributed to Bukhara, Khiva, Karshi and Kokand.  The use of extensive silver inlay may suggest a Bukharan origin.

References and sources:
Abdullayev, T., Fakhretdinova, D., Khakimov, A., A Song in Metal - Folk Art of Uzbekistan, (Tashkent: Gafur Gulyam Art and Literature Publishers, 1986).
Kalter, J., Pavaloi, M. and others, Uzbekistan - Heirs to the Silk Road, (
London: Thames and Hudson, 1997).
Komaroff, L., The Golden Disk of Heaven - Metalwork of Timurid Iran, (Costa Mesa, California and New York: Mazda Publishers in association with Bibliotheca Persica, 1992).
Westphal-Hellbusch, S., and Bruns, I., Metalgefasse aus Buchara, (Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Museum fur Volkerkunde, 1974).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC8