6274

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Indian Inscribed Parcel-Gilt Dove-Shaped Silver Opium-Water Vessel (Chuski)

Deccan or Northern India
17th-18th century

height: 15.2cm, weight: 562g

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Provenance

UK art market

This extraordinary, sculptural silver vessel is shaped as a particularly plump dove. The bird’s chest is thrust forwards and the tail is upright and fanned out. There are pleasing highlights overlaid in gold, and the eyes are inset with rubies.

Such a vessel would have been used in Northern India or the Deccan to offer guests wine (araq) or opium water. It dates to the 17th or early 18th century.

It is simply the best example of such a vessel that we have seen.

The flask is surprising heavy in the hand. The walls are of thick silver and silver was not economised on in its manufacture.

The dove stands on a raised, round platform with ribbed sides.

The chest sports a small ‘S’-shaped spout from which the contents are poured and the head has a small crest which is the finial for an opening through which the flask is filled. The spout has a tiny stopper attached to the spout with a small chain. All parts are original.

An inscription (probably the owner’s name) in what seems to be devanagari script is engraved across the bird’s chest beneath the spout.

Opium usage was common in northern India. It was a part of normal social interaction and for some, an addiction. The Bodleian Library at Oxford, United Kingdom, has in its extensive collection of Mughal miniature paintings one of the dying ‘Inayat Khan, dated 1618. The painting shows the courtier to the Mughal emperor Jahangir, laying on a bed and propped against cushions. His body is wasted and shrivelled, his face sullen and his eyes blank: the courtier is about to die, a result of opium and alcohol addiction. The Emperor was so appalled and fascinated by ‘Inayat Khan’s extreme condition that he mentions it in his memoirs.

The flask is in excellent condition and has a splendid patina and colouration.

References

Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, Antalga, 1978.

Topsfield, A., Indian Paintings from Oxford Collections, University of Oxford, 1994.

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