Permanent Collection: Central Asia


  • A scene from Bukhara perhaps the original home of our tea pot

Brass Teapot with Turquoise Cabochons, Bukhara or Kokand, Central Asia, 1797

Height: 28cms

This cast brass teapot is a very fine example of late C18th Central Asian metalwork.   Unusually in Islamic metalwork, the Central Asian teapot appeared as a well developed form in the C18th, prior to which there is no evidence of such objects.  This example has a flattened oval body, of the satrandsh kind supported on an unusually hexagonal, flared stand, a separately cast openwork handle, a spout which extends much of the length of the body finishing slightly above the top of the neck, and a hinged and faceted lid.  The underside of the base is covered by a decorated, silvered copper sheet.

The body is embellished with two raised teardrop or almond shaped cartouches, also reminiscent of stylised cypress trees.  The cartouches, the base, the lid and the source of the spout are studded with turquoise cabochons, each surrounded by an engraved band, giving an appearance of perspective.  The turquoise is held in place with asphalt.

The sides, front and back of the teapot sport a dense, engraved, interlacing design of foliage and split leaf palmettes, very much in the Timurid fashion.  This design is carried through into the openwork handle.  The field of the body is hatched.  Fittingly for a Silk Road object, the lotus, most itinerant of Asian motifs, appears both in the delicately cast finial buds of the lid and handle, and in the lotus petal decorations found on the underpart of the body and repeated in the minor around the bottom of the base and on the upper part of the spout.  The base and the lid are separated from the main body by slim, geometrically decorated bands.  The end of the spout carries a modest tree of life design.

A band at the neck of the tea pot and the lower half of the sides of the spout carry Arabic inscriptions, the latter including a date which appears to read 1212, giving a Gregorian date of 1797.  This is consistent with dating suggested for a number of similar teapots by Kalter.

Metalwork of this kind has been attributed to a variety of Central Asian cities, with objects from Bukhara, Kokand and Khiva being especially valued for their quality until imports from outside, notably Russia, put pressure on local producers at the beginning of the C20th.  Some features of the teapot, the flattened sides and almond shaped cartouches are suggested by Kalter to be typically of Kokand, though the decorative scrollwork employed is perhaps more typical of objects attributed to Bukhara, and it remains difficult to be certain.  Wherever its origin, this piece is more splendid in its turquoise decoration than any other Central Asian teapot we have seen.  

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).
Andre, P., The Art of Central Asia, (Bournemouth: Parkstone Press/Aurora, 1996).
Kalter, J., Pavaloi, M. and others, Uzbekistan - Heirs to the Silk Road, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997).
Teague, K., Metalcrafts of Central Asia, (Princes Risborough: Shire Publications Ltd, 1990).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC12

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