5644

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Gilded Niello & Enamelled Silver Box set with a Ruby & Jade Cabochons

Northern India
19th century

diameter: 7.1cm, height: 3.4cm, weight: 149g

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Provenance

UK art market; most probably has been in the UK since the colonial era.

This beautiful and rare eight-sided, octagonal box combines northern Indian enamel work with niello work, a combination rarely seen. The niello work (black enamelling against the plain silver ground) is on all sides and the hinged cover. The side panels alternate between floral patterns with birds and Persian-inspired Mughal hunt scenes which comprise a falcon attacking a smaller bird, a lion attacking a gazelle and a princely figure charging on a horse with a sabre drawn.

The top of each side panel is finished with a small amount of enamelling in blues and green.

The lid is decorated with a floral medallion that is infilled with more floral work and this is surrounded by very fine enamelling in whites, pinks, blues and green.

The centre of the flower is set with a large ruby cabochon which is surrounded by delicately enamelled petals, and around this are eight tear-shaped jade (or similar) cabochons.

The interior of the box is gilded (gold plated), as is the base, which is also elaborately engraved with leafy and floral scrollwork.

Niello work itself in India was quite rare – usually when it did appear, it was used to decorate scabbards of daggers (see for example the scabbard of a north Indian knife attributed to the 18th century in Hales, 2013, p. 176-77, for which the niello work is very similar to that on this box.) And usually, it was used alone in decoration and not in combination with enamel work.

The box is in fine condition. Enamel losses and wear are minimal.

References

Hales, R., Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime’s Passion, Robert Hale CI Ltd, 2013.

Sharma, R.D. & M. Varadarajan, Handcrafted Indian Enamel Jewellery, Roli Books, 2004.

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