5143

Tall, Chased Silver Cornucopia Vase

India
19th century

height: 32cm, weight: 567g

Provenance

UK art market

This tall and impressive vase is of solid silver and was made in colonial India. The chasing is influenced by the silversmithing that was undertaken in Kutch but it is not strictly Kutch work. Possibly it was done in Bombay and possibly for a local Parsee (Parsi) client.

It is in the form a of cornucopia, or horn of plenty, has long symbolised abundance, prosperity and plenty. The cornucopia is a European device but colonial India was amply influenced by European motifs, and separately, the Parsees were also quite influenced by English tastes.

It has an acanthus leaf collar around its wide mouth and terminates at the other end with a fish tail and a scaly fish body. This aspect shows clear Indian, if not Parsee, influence. The horn rests on a leafy flourish which sits atop a high dome. The dome and the body of the horn have been chased with scrolling leaf patterns.

It is possible that the vase was commissioned for use as a muktad vase.Muktad vases are used during the Parsee ceremony of muktad, the annual prayers for the dead, celebrated in the last ten days of the Parsee calendar. The muktad days are set aside to remember the fravashis or spirits of the dead. One vase is commissioned for each deceased family member and during muktad, in a room set aside for the purpose, the vases filled with flowers, are placed on tables and blessed. A small fire is kept burning in the room for the ten days.

Typically, vases are plain and not necessarily made from silver. But wealthier Bombay Parsee families seem to have commissioned a variety of elaborate silver muktad vases. By the early twentieth century, there were three main Parsee silver shops in Bombay that specialised in making Parsee-themed ritual items for the local community. Many other silver items were imported from southern China where silversmiths made items for export worldwide (Cama, 1998). It is possible that the vase came from one of these shops.

It is in excellent condition and is particularly imposing.

 

References

Cama, S., ‘Parsi crafts: Gifts from Magi’,UNESCO Power of Creativity Magazine, Vol. 2, August 2008.

Framjee, D.,The Parsees: Their History, Manners, Customs and Religion, Asian Education Services, 2006 (first published in 1858.)

Godrej, P.J. & F. Punthakey Mistree,A Zoroastrian Tapestry: Art, Religion & Culture, Mapin Publishing, 2002.

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