This superb porcelain hookah base was made in China for the Islamic export market, most probably for northern India or Persia (Iran). It dates to the Kangxi (康熙) dynasty of the 17th-18th centuries.
It comprises a spherical base decorated in underglaze blue and cream with scrolling lotus designs.
The neck is encased with silver mounts chased with floral and other motifs. The silver is likely to date to the 17th or 18th centuries as well, and most probably are northern Indian. The silver collar was designed to fit on the remainder of the hookah – the pipes, the charcoal holder, and so on. (The silver does have what appears to be an indistinct eastern, perhaps a Persian, assay mark.)
The form of this hookah base derives from 17th century Indian prototypes which were made from a variety of different materials including metal, terracotta, glass and precious stones. Zebrowski (1997) suggests that spherical hookah bases are more associated with 17th century India, whereas those that are bell-shaped came later, and are more associated with the 18th and 19th centuries.
A related hookah base with silver mounts was offered as lot 200 at Sotheby’s London in their ‘Arts of the Islamic World’, April 24, 2013 – see here.
A related hookah base in polychrome enamels and without any silver fittings is in the British Museum – see here. A similar hookah base in the Riesco Collection was included in the OCS exhibition, ‘Chinese Blue and White Porcelain, 14th to 19th Centuries’, London, 1953-1954, no. 258 (incorrectly illustrated as no. 259, pl. 16d).
A blue and white example but without any mounts is in the David Collection (see Folsach, 2001, p. 179).
The example here is in excellent condition. There are no repairs, cracks or chips. With magnification, the surface of the porcelain has myriad light scratching and wear consistent with age and use.
This example, attributed to 17th century China, is on display in the Islamic Arts Museum of Malaysia. (Photographed February 2017).
Folsach, K., von, Art from the World of Islam: in the David Collection, 2001.
Greensted, M., & P. Hardie, Chinese Ceramics: The Indian Connection, City of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, 1982.
Zebrowski, M.,Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, Alexandria Press, 1997.