Large, Chased Silver Bowl
approximate diameter: 26cm, height: 16cm, weight: 1,115g
This large, fine bowl with concave sides is an excellent example of colonial Lucknow silversmithing that was inspired by the local ruling family. It is chased with twelve cartouches of plants, animals, and what appears to be a tea picker. The cartouches are marked out by elaborate columns of king-like figures emerging from the mouths of fishes, and which wear crowns modelled on those used by the Nawabs of Oudh, the local rulers. The figures stretch out their arms and hold between them larger crowns, similarly modelled. The overall motifs is based loosely on the coats of arms used by the Nawabs. The upper and lower registers are decorated with borders of fish, an emblem frequently associated with the local ruling house. The lower register also has another border of animals amid shrubbery.
The bowl sits on a low, flat base that has been engraved with an elephant surrounded by a leafy and floral border.
There are various versions of the Nawabs’ coats of arms, usually they were modified for each new Nawab as he took the throne. An example of a Nawab coat of arms was employed on the Jal Pari (the Mermaid Gateway), which was one of the entrances to the Nawabs’ Qaisarbargh Palace complex. The gates were demolished around 1870.
The ruling family of Oudh established themselves as independent hereditary rulers during the collapse of Mughal power in the early eighteenth century.
The strategic position of their capital and the Oudh province, prompted the British to use them as a buffer state between their own territories in the east, and the west. However the British used the inevitable intrigue and jockeying in the Oudh court to exert greater and greater influence. By the turn of the nineteenth century they managed to virtually exercise a veto right on the succession. The Nawabs devoted much of their time trying to project the outward signs of their sovereignty and regality, rather than exerting their power. Accordingly, Lucknow became an important centre for court arts.
Wajid ‘Ali Shah was the last Nawab of Oudh. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Nawabs had lost their political and military usefulness to the British, and so the British under Dalhousie, Governor General of the East India Company, annexed the kingdom outright in 1856 on the grounds of internal misrule. It was in Oudh where the first great revolt of Indian Independence started in 1857. Meanwhile Wajid ‘Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta with most of his family.
Certainly Wajid ‘Ali Shah had shown little interest in administration. He took a personal interest in the arts which reached a high point in Lucknow during his rule and preferred to spend his time with musicians, poets, concubines and eunuchs. His court was beset with corruption and yet the arts – such as silversmithing – flourished.
The bowl here is in excellent condition.
Llewellyn-Jones, R. (ed.), Lucknow: City of Illusion (The Alkazi Collection of Photography), Prestel, 2006.
Masterpieces in the State Museum, Lucknow, 1989.
et al, India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow, LACMA/DelMonico Books, 2010.Provenance:
private collection, UK.
Inventory no.: 3235
Muhammad ali Shah (ruled 1837-42) wearing the crown of the Nawabs of Awadh as depicted in the Nawabs’ coat of arms.
The Jal Pari (the Mermaid Gateway), circa 1865. The gates were demolished around 1870.