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Rare Gilded & Enamelled Silver Hookah Base showing Europeans Sailing Ships & Europeans
height: 18.5cm, diameter: 20.2cm, weight: 900g
This remarkable enamelled, gilded (gold-plated) silver hookah base is the only known example of which we are aware that shows European sailing ships and
European themes. It has a wonderful form with its wide, flat foot and curving sides. The champleve enamel is in blues, green, yellow and red.
The overall theme is of water and fecundity - animals such as elephants, tigers, and gazelles, and birdlife including peacocks abound. But running through this
profuse display of creatures and shrubbery is a stream in turquoise enamel that breams with waterbirds and fishes. Other references to water and fertility
include a scrolling water motif beneath the mouth of the hookah.
Importantly, the motifs include two European sailing ships. One of the ships appears to be flying the English version of the First Union Flag, used as the flag of
the Kingdom of Great Britain between 1707 and 1801. There is also a figure on horseback who appears to be European with a brimmed hat. Additionally,
there is a small domed building between two palm trees which looks like a structure that might have stood in Lucknow.
See Zebrowski (1997, p. 85) for a related silver-gilt and enamelled hookah base with similar animal and fish themes but without the European references and
the dramatically flared foot.
The lushness of the motifs including Ottoman-inspired Mughalesque floral sprays, and the form of the domed building, suggest the hookah base was
produced in Lucknow. (Related enamel work was also produced in Jaipur.)
Lucknow emerged as an important centre for courtly crafts such as fine enamelling on silver. It was the capital of the state of Oudh which was established in
1750. The flourishing arts scene was largely on account of the patronage of the local, wealthy Nawabs of Oudh. By the mid-19th century, Lucknow was India's
largest and wealthiest city. A stupendous public building programme on the part of the local rulers transformed the city into an almost mythical destination with
one grand edifice after another.
Hookah bases are for smoking tobacco but tobacco is not indigenous to India. The Portuguese generally are credited with its introduction to the sub-continent
in the sixteenth century. Hookah bases became an ever-present motif in north Indian paintings and miniatures by the 1770s.
The hookah base here is without repairs. There are minor losses to the enamel only. There is raised pink enamel to the flower buds on the border that rounds
around the lower-most edge and this might be a later addition although it has clear age (it might also be original), and there is minor age and use-related
denting to the lower rim around the base. But all this is minor given the age and the rarity of the subject matter shown.
Dye, J.M., The Arts of India: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2001.
Markel, S. et al, India's Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow, LACMA/DelMonico Books, 2010.
Sharma, R.D. & M. Varadarajan, Handcrafted Indian Enamel Jewellery, Roli Books, 2004.
Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, Antalga, 1987.
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, Alexandria Press, 1997.
Provenance: private collection, UK.
Inventory no.: 4397 SOLD