Permanent Collection: Ewers

  • This carnation ewer can be read as a stylised representation of a paradise garden
  • The ewer is unusual for Ottoman motifs on a Mughal object
  • The comparison with a garden is suggested by the field of well ordered carnations and the central tree motif
  • Ottoman carnations amid tulips and other flowers from Iznik tilework in the Sultanahmet or Blue Mosque Istanbul
  • The chevrons represent the flow of water through the ewer - garden
  • The layering of the carnation motifs suggests a European sense of perspective

Carnation Ewer - Brass Mughal Ewer with Ottoman Motifs, India, C17th

Height: 28cms

This 'carnation' ewer is of great historical and artistic interest, its combination of style and decoration placing it firmly at the confluence of the Mughal and Ottoman styles.  Whilst made of brass and of a conventional Mughal form, the repeated carnation pattern of the decoration is a well known Ottoman motif which has appeared in Ottoman art and on Ottoman textiles from the C16th.  Its appearance in Mughal art is relatively unusual.  Zebrowski publishes one rare, very fine example (p54). The current ewer is the only example of an Ottoman style carnation motif being used in brass that we are aware of.  Other representations of carnations in Mughal art (for example Michel, p.163) are very different in conception.

Whilst the interplay between the courts and cultures of the Great Mughal and the Padishah has not been widely studied beyond Farooqi's careful analysis of diplomatic relations, there were many channels through which influence and ideas flowed between them.  Following the fall of the Mamluk Empire to the Ottomans in 1517, and the growth of Mughal influence in Gujerat during the 1570's, the two empires were separated only by Persia on land and the Indian Ocean at sea.  Of a more maritime disposition than the Mughals, Ottoman influence occasionally extended as far to the East as Sumatra, well beyond the realm of Al Hind, and contact between Ottoman and Mughal spheres was relatively frequent.  Scope for the transmission of ideas existed through the formal, gift-laden diplomatic missions of both courts, the employment of Turkish military, medical and architectural specialists by Mughal patrons, the journeys of the Hajj and the more general traffic of commerce.

Beyond its Ottoman influence, other decorative aspects of the ewer are of interest.  The spout carries the head of a lion or other big cat, whilst the handle is in the form of a highly stylised makara, the acquatic beast of Hindu legend. Similar features are present on other ewers in our collection (GNC2, GNC5). Both the lid and the handle carry lotus bud finials, and both are worn with evident age.  The ewer as a whole rests on a modest, everted base decorated with lotus petals.

The ewer may be properly understood as the representation of a paradisical Islamic garden in stylised form.  The floral decoration in the central, teardrop cartouche of the body suggests a tree of life, while the field of the ewer presents a well ordered garden in the repeated pattern of carnations. The repeated pattern of chevrons on the neck and more especially the handle and spout of the ewer, conveying a sense of fluidity and movement, are reminiscent of the carefully positioned water-flows which segmented the regular planting of Mughal and other Islamic gardens.  Zig-zag motifs were often used to represent the flow of water in archtectural decoration.  Examples include the use of chevron patterns in the water terrace of the Shalamar Bagh, Lahore (Moynihan, p.143) and on a water chute in the Fort at Agra (Lehrman p.148).

The Ottomans were not alone in their engagement with the world of the Indian Ocean.  As the C17th progressed, Europeans, most notably the Portuguese, began to make their presence felt.  Just as the influence of European styles of perspective began to make their presence felt in the Mughal painting of this period, the carnation ewer provides evidence that this influence extended to metalwork.  Rather than sitting alongside one another, the carnation motifs are overlain, in the European manner of perspective, bringing yet another influence to bear on this exceptional piece. 

The combination of the ewer’s form with the conjunction of these influences lead us to date it to C17th India.  Similar objects in form though not in decoration are to be found in Zebrowski.  Richly patinated, this ewer is both beautiful and historically important.  For another object combining Indian and Middle Eastern influences, please see elsewhere in our collection (GNC6).

References and sources:
Artan, T., Denny, W. B., Cagman, F., Palace of Gold & Light - Treasures from the Topkapi, Istanbul, ([n.p.]: Palace Arts Foundation, 2001).
Farooqi, N. R., Mughal-Ottoman Relations, (Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 2009).
Giancarlo, C., The Ottoman Age of Exploration, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
King, D., Imperial Ottoman Textiles, (London: Colnaghi, 1982).
Lehrman, J., Earthly Paradise - Garden and Courtyard in Islam, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980).
Moynihan, E. B., Paradise as a Garden - In Persia and Mughal India, (London: Scolar Press, 1982).
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC13

Elegant and Simple Mughal Brass Ewer, India, Circa 1700

Height: 25cms

This simple and elegant ewer (aftaba) of around 1700 is of heavy cast brass, with a flattened, rotund body which carries the first hints of the pear shaped form that was to become more characteristic of ewers in later centuries.  The spout is straight and faceted, decorated with a single band somewhat below the mid point.  The shoulder of the body is marked by a single thinner band, leading into a coif like lower neck, with two further bands framing the softly faceted vertical of the neck.  The lid sits snugly on the ewer, and both the lotus bud finial and the simple handle carry pleasing signs of wear.

In regard to manufacture, the base of the ewer displays a circular element added after the main casting had been made.  The lid, handle and spout appear to have been cast separately but, unusually in our experience, rather than the handle being attached to the outside of the neck, it and the upper neck ring seem to form a single component part of the ewer.

In form rather than decoration, the ewer is similar to an example in Zebrowski, (fig. 233) attributed to circa 1700, having a similarly shaped body, spout, lid, and handle, and we imagine a similar sense of thickness and weight.  Our piece is slightly larger than the published example.  Differences include the shape of the stand and the fluting of the neck.  In body shape, our ewer seems to represent a modification or development of other examples published in Zebrowski as figs. 211 and 212.  These are attributed to C16th and C17th, again suggesting a slightly later date of circa 1700 for our piece.

Decoratively, the ewer is very simple.  Other than the fluting and rings noted above and the modest chevrons in relief that mark the ends of the handle, the principal decorative features of the ewer are the substantial, raised almond or teardrop shaped cartouches on the sides of the body.  These mirror the overall shape of the piece, and in turn are inverted in a smaller cartouche to the front of the lid which forms the base of the spout.

An unusual feature of the piece is a series of small, clumsily punched designs on the back of the base.  These may represent animals or birds, or perhaps be undecipherable letters.  Either way, the beautifully smoothed facets and honeyed patina of this piece, effect a simple presence.

References and sources:
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue Number: GNC15

  • Possibly a poppy motif
  • Detail of makara

Very Fine Brass Gadrooned Mughal Ewer, India, C18th

Height: 32cms

This ewer is a stunning example of its kind, combining fine examples of form and decoration to produce a piece of exceptional quallity.  It is related to another ewer (GNC5) in our collection, but superior in execution.  It is very closely related to ewers held in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamiche Kunst.

The ewer stands on four short, footed legs which support an oval base.  The underside of the ewer clearly shows a separate circular plug, added after the principal castings had been made.  The body itself is of extended, flattened, pear-shaped form and carries thirty-one fine gadroons.  The body then extends into a long, smooth neck, surmountd by an onion dome lid.  The handle and lid would seem to have been cast separately, as would probably the spout, however see below for a more detailed analysis of the manufacture of a similar ewer.  The gadrooned or ‘melonate’ style is represented elsewhere in our collection, in the case of a surahi (GNC4) in earlier, everted form. 

The form of the gently S shaped spout is ribbed and set off with a single decorative band just below the mid-point.  It culminates in a finely cast head of a lion or other big cat, characterised by strongly defined features and lightly etched fur and whiskers, from whose mouth water would flow when the piece was in use.  A similar head, if anything finer in execution, forms the top of the handle, balanced at the bottom by the head of a makara, the mythological Hindu creature often depicted as having the foreparts of an elephant and the tail of a fish.  Such creatures also feature on another ewer (GNC13) in our collection, this other makara being highly stylised and the feline head less fully modelled.  The lid of the ewer is surmounted by a substantial lotus bud finial.  Both the finial and the handle show pleasing signs of wear.

Decoratively, the ewer is fully ornamented, being covered entirely with a series of light floral motifs.  Taking a lead from the finial, a lotus petal pattern is repeated below the onion dome, at the top of the neck and around the base of the ewer.  In addition, each gadroon is given a lotus petal decoration in relief, such that the whole is reminiscent of the lotus thrones and pedestals which characterised earlier Hindu and Buddhist figurative metalwork.

The gadrooned elements of the ewer, each separated by delicate beading, bear a more opulent foliate pattern which conveys a sense of lush, dense texture.  The neck and the body are separated by two circular floral designs one of which re-appears in simplified form on the handle. The neck itself, the onion dome and the spout carry a further design which also appears elsewhere in our collection on an early pandan (GNC3), as well as on our similar ewer, which we tentatively identify as being a representation of the poppy.  Overall, the ewer glows with a rich, deep brown patina.

The similarity of this piece to another in our collection (GNC5), an example in Virginia (Dye, p.400) and an example from Berlin (Zebrowski, p.234), support the proposition that such ewers were part of a workshop production.  These other published examples have been attributed to C18th North India, which would seem to be a suitable attribution for this piece.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has conducted a detailed technical survey of its similar ewer.  It is unclear in that case whether the spout was cast separately, and the Museum found that the ribbed decoration on the body of the ewer is visible in reverse on the interior surface, suggesting an indirect lost-wax casting method of manufacture.  Interestingly, the ribbing on the spout is visible only from the outside, suggesting that the pattern was created by channels being directly cut into the wax.  Their examination also revealed two chaplets or core supports left within the body of the ewer from the manufacturing process.  The indirect lost-wax casting method is explained in Eskerdijian (pp24 – 25).

References and sources:

Bronze, ed. Eskerdjian, D., (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2012).
Dye, J.M. III., The Arts of India - Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2001).
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC2


  • Floral decoration on the neck of the ewer - possibly poppies
  • Poppy flowers and leaves

Gadrooned Brass Mughal Ewer, India, C18th

Height: 31cms

This ewer is strongly related to another ewer (GNC2) in our collection, albeit this example is not of quite the same magnificence.  Its similarity of design to our other ewer and to ewers on display in Virginia and Berlin is of great interest.  The similarities are close enough to suggest that all may have originated in a single workshop, notwitstanding their current dispersion.

In comparison to GNC2, this ewer has a rounder, less delicately gadrooned belly.  Other differences include a straight spout, which ends simply, and which bears a series of ribs to which a decorative band is, unsually, conformed as well as the slight offset of the makara at the bottom of the handle.  Again, both the handle and finial show pleasing signs of wear.

The chased floral ornamentation of the ewer is also very similar to that of GNC2, including the representation which we take to be of poppies, present on the neck.

References and sources:
Dye, J.M. III., The Arts of India - Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2001).
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC5