A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century
Lot 102
A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray
Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century
Sold for £962,500 (US$ 1,285,912) inc. premium

Lot Details
A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century
A rare and fine Mother-of-Pearl and black lac overlaid wood Tray
Gujarat, late 16th/ early 17th Century
of circular form with raised rim, the surface decorated with elegant mother-of-pearl inlay on a black lac ground with a central roundel featuring a scene in a pavilion with courtly figures and attendants, surrounded by winged figures, large trees and birds, all on a background of very fine scrolling floral arabesques, the reverse painted in white, black, green and gold on a red ground with a central shamsa surrounded by lobed cartouches containing floral sprays; old labels to reverse with pen inscriptions, the first 356, the second Ca[..] Leyland[?]
43.5 cm. diam.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private UK Collection.

    Gujarat is first mentioned as the centre of mother-of-pearl work in 1502, when the King of Melinde, on the East Coast of Africa, presented Vasco de Gama with a 'bedstead of Cambay, wrought with gold and mother of pearl, a very beautiful thing' (The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama, London, 1869, quoted in Simon Digby, 'The mother-of-pearl overlaid furniture of Gujarat: the holdings of the Victoria and Albert Museum', in Robert Skelton et al (ed.), Facets of Indian Art, London 1986, p. 215). Gujarati mother-of-pearl work comprises two types of work: items either made of or covered in mother-of-pearl, and items consisting of a wooden article covered in a dark mastic and inset with pieces of mother-of-pearl, of which this tray is an example.

    The production of this second group is generally thought of as the speciality of Northern Gujarat, particularly around Ahmedabad, Cambay, Surat and further west in Thattha. This attribution is largely due both to European travellers' accounts and to Abu'l Fazl's Ain-i Akbari (1595), the celebrated historical work on the Akbar period written around 1595. That work refers to the province of Ahmedabad as a centre for exports including articles worked with mother-of-pearl. This geographical attribution is further evidenced by the survival of mastic-inset and mother-of-pearl decorated domed cenotaph canopies which survive in the tombs of revered Sufi Shaykhs including Shah 'Alam at Rasulabad and Shaykh Ahmad Khattu at Sarkhej, both close to Ahmedabad and erected between 1605 and 1608 (Amin Jaffer, Luxury Goods from India: The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, London 2002, p. 24).

    The decoration of the second group most frequently takes the form of vegetal or geometric designs. Figural decoration, as seen on our tray, is rarer. One example is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (I.S.24-1966, published in Digby, op. cit., figs. 9-10, pp. 219-20). Another figural example is a panel formerly in the Jules Boilly collection (Digby, op. cit., p.221). A chessboard in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (Inv. no. R 1099) features hunting scenes with riders on horseback, tigers, elephants and a rhinoceros. Mother-of-pearl trays are specifically mentioned as being delivered to the ladies at Kabul, listed among the spoils of the Lodi Sultans of Delhi catured by the Emperor Babur in 1526 (G. Begam, Humayun-nama, ed., London, 1902, p. 13, translated. p. 95; cited in Digby, op. cit., 1986, p. 215).

    Two shields both attributed to the 16th century - one in the Armoury of the Topkapi Museum and another in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello - have figural designs closest to our tray. The Topkapi shield (Les Tresors de Turquie, Skira, Geneva, 1966, p. 235) dated to circa AD 1525 features very Persian-looking figures wearing turbans engaged in hunting scenes and figures paying homage to an enthroned ruler, leading scholars to attribute this shield initially to Iran. The Florence shield, attributed to the mid-16th century, shows courtly scenes, such as figures feasting and hunting as well as isolated figures (Bg M 787, published in Islam: specchio d'Oriente, Florence 2002, no. 12, pp.54-55). All of these share similar vegetal ornament in the background, with dense comma-shaped leaves springing from curling stems.

    The most striking feature of our tray is the presence of a series of angels or winged figures carrying birds or vessels, which do not appear on any other recorded example of mother-of-pearl inlaid works. These angels show Safavid, Indian and European influence. Parallels for these figures may be found in both Indian and Safavid manuscripts and miniatures and on architecture of the 16th and 17th century such as the Kala Burj in Lahore. A series of angels adorns the corner shields of the painted pavilions of Nur Jahan in the Ram Bagh at Agra dated variously to the mid-16th to early 17th century (see E. Koch, 'Notes on the painted and sculptured decoration of Nur Jahan's pavilions in the Ram Bagh at Agra', in Facets of Indian Art, London, 1986, pp. 51-65). These angels wear costumes varying from a Safavid short sleeved overcoat worn over a long undergarment - the typical outfit of a Safavid peri - and the local costume of the choli, ghaghra and dopatta, very similar to the range of costumes worn by our angels. A winged figure at Agra is shown holding a peacock, almost identical to three of our winged figures who are shown in Safavid dress holding peacocks. The pavilion also features cherubs with a mixture of European and Mughal features. This painted decoration provides the most striking parallel for the decoration on our tray and provides a general date. It also indicates the decorative scheme of our tray may have been intended for an Indian patron rather than for export to royal patrons in Europe, the Near East and Turkey as most of the mother-of-pearl inlaid items seem to have been.

    The painted reverse of our tray is characteristic of a group of mother-of-pearl inlaid caskets of the 16th and 17th centuries all of which have their interiors and bottoms painted red (Jaffer, op. cit, 2002, p. 24). The cartouche and shamsa decoration is related to manuscript illumination and bookbinding techniques of the Mughal and Safavid periods.

    The inspiration for Gujarati mother-of-pearl production remains unclear. A suggestion is that East Asian examples, such as Korean sutra boxes (caskets with bevelled lids, some attributed to the 12th-13th century), were imported to Western India, where the technique was emulated by local craftsmen.

    The fragile nature of the medium has meant that only around 30 recorded examples survive, now almost entirely in museums. This unique tray represents an extremely important addition to this corpus.
Activities
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