Permanent Collection: Mughal & Islamic India

  • The writing box has a remarkable sense of architectural proportion, featuring an onion dome and spire like finial
  • Engraving of a mausoleum with onion domes
  • Indian pangolins
  • The writing box fully dis-assembled
  • Ingress to the pen cases

Brass Mughal Writing Box, India, Late C19th

Height: 18.5cms, Length: 33cms

This brass Mughal writing box is an excellent example of its kind, featuring as it does a pen box (kalamdan) with two tubular pen cases, an ink well (roshandani) and a further affixed compartment, possibly for the storage of sand for ink drying.

Writing boxes were used throughout the Islamic world, their form varying considerably between Persia where, by the period of our piece, they were frequently made of lacquered or painted wood or papier mache as well as metal, the Ottoman lands where silver was a more common medium and Mughal and British India.  In the early Mughal period, remarkably ornate, jewel encrusted, gold writing boxes were a feature of courtly life.  For an example of such a piece of similar form to ours dated to the C16th, see Maharaja, p.142.  Whilst this form of pen box was relatively early, as with our example, brass later became the more popular medium, though bronze and silver are also known. Such writing boxes were used by scribes, merchants and similar professions, were sometimes given as gifts within aristocratic and well-to-do families at the time of the recipients’ first writing lessons and were also known to have been used by some European employees of the East India Company.  Characteristic of many Mughal examples is a remarkable sense of architectural proportion.

The box in hand features a typically ‘onion’ domed ink well, reminiscent of the onion domes of Central Asian and Mughal architecture.  The lid is topped with a substantial lotus bud finial, underpinned by two rings of lotus petals, the first modelled around the vertical of the finial and the second chased into the upper part of the lid.  The lotus representation is again repeated beneath the dome, before the lid ends in a band of decorative creatures resembling ground foraging Indian pangolins, interspersed with flower motifs.  The body of the ink well is plainly cast but for a further band of pangolins around its base.  The removal of the lid reveals a second small, round, hinged lid, itself surrounded by further lotus petals, which provides access to the ink inside.  The underside of this lid and its surrounding aperture still carry hints of lamp-black ink coloration from previous use.  The sand box is soldered directly onto the ink well, and nestles closely against the two pen cases.  Some writing cases omit this feature.

The ink well is affixed towards one end of the pen cases.  These are held securely shut by a well cast brass pin, which when lifted facilitates the removal of a double stopper, revealing ingress to the pen cases.  Each would have held a traditional reed pen.  The two pen cases are joined by a stamped, open-work panel and finished at each end with a double lotus bud terminal, conjoined in each case by a further modest floral panel.

The pin, the double stopper and the finial of the lid all carry holes which would have been used to link these separable pieces to a similar bracket on the side of the ink well, using now lost chains.

A very similar example, both in terms of construction and decoration though shorter and omitting the sand holder, resides in the British Museum, and is illustrated on p.75 of Porter and Barakat.  The piece is of sufficient similarity to suggest a common origin.  Another writing box of broadly similar style is on display in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

References and sources:
Maharaja - The Splendour of India's Royal Courts,
ed. by Jackson, A., Jaffer, A. (London: V&A Publishing, 2009).
Porter, V., Barakat, H., Mightier than the Sword - Arabic Script: Beauty and Meaning, (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia, 2004).

Provenance:  The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC1

Mughal Brass Ribbed Flask, India, C17th

Height: 27cms

This simple, long necked water flask (surahi) is a most elegant example of its kind. Such objects were an early and prominent development of Mughal metalwork.  In addition, representations of surahi were frequently used as a motif in architectural decoration, featuring in the wall panels of Mughal  mausolea such as the Agra tomb of Itimad-ad Daula and in royal palaces, a striking example being the Jai Mandir mirror hall at Amber.  Michel offers excellent illustrations of this phenomenon (p.32-33).  Extraordinary bejewelled  surahis of gold, such as those shown in Zebrowski (p.68, p.70), were made for the Mughal court from the C17th onwards.  More frequently, examples are found in silver and a variety of bronzes and brasses.  Given its light and reflective appearance, this example may be of formerly tinned brass.

This piece stands firmly on a short, splayed foot, rising into a well rounded, slightly ovoid, vertically ridged body, suggesting a segmented fruit-like form of everted gadroons, a pattern described as 'melonate' by Zebrowski.  These segments gather at the base of a slightly flaring, faceted neck above a simple decorative band.  A later variant of this style of decoration can be seen in the bodies of the gadrooned ewers elsewhere in our collection (GNC2, GNC5).  The neck is balanced by a further circlet at its topmost point.

Zebrowski shows a number of examples of bronze and brass surahis, of which fig. 275 is the most like our own.  The similarities of design between the two pieces are sufficient for a C17th dating to be attributed to the piece in hand.  The Zebrowski example is tinned brass, which may also account for the luminous character of our piece.  Tinning, originally applied to copper vessels to preserve food from contamination, was also used for general decorative purposes.

The age of the piece is further supported by the gentle wear of the faceted neck, which over the centuries has achieved an almost transluscent patination and exceptional smoothness to the touch.  Slight areas of red coloration on the upper surface of the body probably indicate, as might be expected, the presence of copper within the alloy.

References and sources:
Michel, G., The Majesty of Mughal Decoration - The Art and Architecture of Islamic India, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2007).
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, (London: Alexandria Press, 1997).

Provenance:  The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC4

  • 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 flower 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 (p.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

  • 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

  • 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).  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

  • Ribbed and tiled dome in Samarkand

Brass Pandan, India, C17th - C18th

Height: 7cms, Diameter: 10cms

This paan box or pandan, of domed, ridged form and consisting of a body and a lid, is related to a group of objects described by Zebrowski as a variant of the early pandan, commonly found in the C17th and C18th.  This piece is notable for its volume of ribs, these being thirty one in number.  As a style, such pandans have been likened to the ribbed domes of Islamic Central Asian and Indian architecture.  In this instance, the ribs rise to a smooth and circular finish at the centre of the ‘roof’' of the pandan.  Zebrowski attributes pandans of this form to Northern India, whilst Terlinden suggests a Deccani origin for similarly shaped objects, albeit of higher quality.  Perhaps they were ubiquitous.

Unlike some later pandans, this example is of the earlier kind, designed to carry rolled or folded paan leaves after they had been prepared, rather than providing a means of keeping the constituent ingredients of the paan seperate.

Interstingly, in order to close the box, a small notch in the metal at the top of a body rib must be matched directly with a similar notch on the bottom of a lid rib, otherwise the piece will not close.

With regard to decoration, the body and lid of the pandan are entirely covered in repeated chased or etched representations of a single tree or flower, save for two bands of a different design around the top  of the ribs, and a floral or foliate motif on the top of the dome.  Both the two top bands and the foliate motif have been virtually worn away through constant wear and use, suggesting an early date for the object.  The nature of the single tree or flower remains unidentified, however the motif appears on two ewers in our collection attributed to the C18th, (GNC2, GNC5) as well as other ewers published elsewhere, where it sometimes appears overset on a leaf motif resembling that of the poppy.  Poppies have been identified as a feature of Mughal decoration, not least by Michel (p.201) among others, and there would seem to be a narcotic justice in decorating pandans with poppies.

The decoration within is of equal interest.  The base of the pandan is covered with a beautifully engraved lotus flower set within two decorative roundels.

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

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC3


  • 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, and executed mostly 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

  • 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