Ceremonial Shield (Dhal) Gujarat, North-West India c. 19th century Brass padded with red velvet 16 1/2 in. (42 cm.) diameter
Provenance: From the Collection of a Distinguished Connoisseur, London, England Acquired in the 1980’s
This magnificent shield, with its circular convex form and marvelously intricate rendering, is characterized with four bosses in the center surmounted by a crescent moon, a familiar North Indian motif. The openwork decoration portrays the deities Shiva and his wife Parvati, Hanuman- Rama’s faithful companion, the divine monkey, and Kali- the goddess of time, change, and destruction. The central figures are surrounded by various winged manifestations of the gods themselves.
The finely cast imagery is depicted on dense swaying foliate and floral ground. The level of intricacy, detail, and use of fine materials indicate that the shield was not intended for battle, but was instead a ceremonial shield. The decorative pattern and use of winged figures are reminiscent of the foliate motifs used on the repoussé silverware of Kutch.
The famed silversmith of Kutch; Oomersi Mawji, was, as were other smiths with him, a shield maker before turning to silver-work (W. Wilkinson, Indian Silver 1858-1947, London 1999, pp. 64-101, pl. 97-105, 109, 110, 112).
The second half of the 19th century witnessed a high foreign demand for Indian luxury goods.Europe’s first exposure to Indian art and design was at the Great Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 which included a display of Indian textiles, jewelry, carpets and metalwork. The English architect, Owen Jones, was employed as one of the Superintendent of Works for the Great Exhibition. In his hugely influential design source book, ‘The Grammar of Ornament’, Jones wrote, “The Exhibition… was barely opened to the public ere attention was directed to the gorgeous contributions of India.” The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 also played a significant role in bringing Indian silversmithing and weaponry to a truly international audience.
The Government of India Act in 1858 brought an end to the rule of the Company with all control transferred to the British Crown. This was the beginning of the Raj and also the final period of British influence in India. By the 1860s Indian silversmiths had adopted a new and unique manner of decorating objects for European use. Reflecting a true confluence of styles, the form and function of Raj silver still catered to colonial taste and demand but its exterior surfaces now conspicuously displayed indigenous decorative motifs. Consumer taste seemed to echo the shift in power. At the same time, traditional forms of Indian metalwork, which had been made for centuries, continued. Princely rulers were still commissioning attar-daans (perfume containers), paan-daans (betel containers), gulab-pash (rosewater sprinklers) and hookahs (water pipes).
Besides personal use, there was a high demand for Raj metalwork to be presented as gifts and trophies for the British in India. An enormous effort was made by the Maharaos of Kutch to support the smiths’ trade and create awareness of their craftsmanship. Kutchi-metalware was presented to dignitaries on ceremonial occasions.
Compare the crescent moon and four bosses with a shield held at the Royal Collection Trust, from King Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom (1841-1910) [RCIN 38183].
A Pair of Pambadam Ear Ornaments South India, Tamil Nadu c. 1900 Metal Alloy
A Pair of Pambadam Ear Ornaments South India, Tamil Nadu c. 1900 Metal alloy 2 3/4 in. (7 cm.) wide
Traditionally, these ear ornaments would have been worn as a sign of prestige and respectability amongst South Indian communities. Both men and women would start stretching their earlobes at a young age, as the length of earlobes was indicative of high caste. They simultaneously represent the three worlds (Triloka) of Hindu belief: the physical (earthly) world, the astral plane, and the spiritual universe of the gods.
Makara Bangle (Makaranathi) India Dated 1869 Gold and rubies
Makara Bangle (Makaranathi) India Dated 1869 Gold and rubies 8 1/4 in. (21 cm.) in diameter
Provenance: From the collection of renowned and respected philanthropist Mary Jane Lampton Peabody (1921-2015)
The bracelet features repoussé details that include foliate designs and two makara heads facing one another with protruding ruby eyes. Between the makaras is a round sphere that holds the screw fastening mechanism. The inside rim bears the mark “Eugénie” with crown and the year 1869.
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Asia Week NY 2019
Arcane Masters: A Curated Exhibition of Indian and Himalayan Art
Open House Weekend: March 16–17 Saturday and Sunday, 11am–5pm
Hours Mon–Sat, 10am–6pm (otherwise by appointment)