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Fine, Silver Mahtabi Bidri Bowl

Hyderabad, India
19th century

diameter: 12.5cm, height: 6.1cm, weight: 426g



UK art market

This very fine, decorative bowl has flaring sides and a splayed, ring foot. The exterior is decorated with floral arabesques in a trellised arrangement. The interior is decorated profusely with rows of petals rendered in silver to suggest one large bloom. The underside of the ring foot also is decorated with a single flower motif, also rendered in silver.

The bowl is entirely decorated in mahtabi-work whereby the design is marked out by the absence of silver rather than by the silver itself. As such, it is the reverse of the usual way in which Bidri work typically is encountered. The technique normally involved covering the surface to be decorated with silver sheet that is cut to mark out the script.

A pandan or betel box with similar work and which is attributed to 19th century Hyderabad, is illustrated in Lal (1990, p. 108).

Bidriware originated in the city of Bidar in the Deccan. It is cast from an alloy of mostly zinc with copper, tin and lead. The vessels are overlaid or inlaid with silver (as is the case here), brass and sometimes gold. A paste that contains sal ammoniac is applied which turns the alloy dark black but leaving the silver, brass and gold unaffected.

Bidriware caused great interest at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. It found new European markets and helped to keep alive the craft as demand fell in India with the decline of many of the smaller courts and landed families.

The example here is in fine condition with no obvious loss to the silver inlay.


Lal, K., Bidri Ware: National Museum Collection, National Museum New Delhi, 1990.

Mittal, J., Bidri Ware and Damascene Work: in Jagdish & Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Jagdish & Kamla Mittal Museum of Art, 2011.

Stronge, S., Bidri Ware: Inlaid Metalwork from India, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1985.

Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, Alexandria Press, 1997.

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