Superb & Highly Unusual Silver Teapot
India, probably Amritsar
height: 15.5cm, width: 27cm, weight: 734g
We have had many items of Indian silver but in terms of workmanship, this might well be the finest. It is an extraordinary piece of artwork both for its unusual form and most particularly for the fine chasing that covers almost every part. Indeed, no such similar teapot or related work appears to have been published.
The lid of the teapot comprises the coils of a cobra which then rises with its hooded multi-heads forming a protective canopy over a seated Shiva figure, which together form the lid’s finial. Shiva’s forehead is marked appropriately with Shaivite insignia.
The body and shoulder of the teapot are beautifully chased with exquisitely-fine leaf and flower scrolls against a very carefully tooled background. A solid-cast model of Nandi, Shiva’s
vahana or celestial vehicle sits on the teapot’s shoulder towards the front. This probably was intended as a place to rest the index finger of the non-pouring hand to steady the teapot as it was used to pour tea.
The lower body is decorated with a band of repeated half zinnia blooms. Beneath this is a slightly flared, high ring foot which is chased with six lion faces against faceted backgrounds. (The Asiatic lion once roamed across the Punjab and Rajasthan and are now almost extinct.)
The underside of the spout is similarly chased. The remainder is left plain, providing a pleasing contrast, and the only break on the teapot from profuse decoration.
The rectangular-form handle is chased all over and the top bend is covered with the face of a Shaivite devotee with a long beard. The lower bend comprises a bird with its beak very widely opened so that the top part of the handle appears as if it is being disgorged from the beak.
The relative uniqueness of this piece makes its precise place of manufacture difficult to pinpoint. The chasing and motifs appear to be a blend of patterns used in Kutch but also Kashmir, which suggests the Sikh capital of Amritsar as a possible place of manufacture. Colonial silver from Amritsar is rare; few examples have been published. Dehejia (2008, p. 91) illustrates a three-piece tea set which has some similarities with the teapot here – most particularly each piece of the published set has a ring foot decorated with half zinnia or sunflower-like flowers interspersed with lion faces. Scrollwork around the sides of each piece is also similar in composition to that which appears on the teapot here, although the work on the latter is considerably finer. Also, the spout on the teapot here and the one illustrated both have chased undersides and plain tops. As Dehejia points out Amritsar had strong political and cultural ties with Kashmir and that after 1846. Kashmir accepted the Sikh feudatory Gulab Singh as its ruler in exchange for the presence of a British resident in its capital Srinagar. Its wealth and relative proximity to Kutch suggest that several Kutch silversmiths might have migrated to Amritsar where their work was influenced by local motifs. The fact that the teapot here has overtly Hindu motifs need not detract from an Amristar or Kutch provenance: Kutch silversmiths often employed Hindu motifs despite most probably being Muslim themselves.
The teapot is in perfect condition and shows little to no wear from polishing. It is without dents, splits or repairs.
Dehejia, V., Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj, Mapin, 2008.
Indian Silver 1858-1947, 1999.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 2024