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    Tanjore Rosewater Sprinkler overlaid with Silver & Brass

    Tanjore (Thanjavur), South India
    late 19th century

    height: 27.2cm, width: 9.4cm, weight: 502g



    UK art market

    – scroll down to see further images –

    This very unusual and complex rosewater sprinkler is the finest example of this type of Tanjore work that we have seen on a sprinkler. It comprises a copper body and stem that has been overlaid with brass and silver chased plaques, which themselves have been embossed, chased and engraved. (This type of work is known as Tanjore work, after Tanjore – now known as Thanjavur – the south Indian city where much of this work was executed. Tanjore is near Madras.)

    The head of the sprinkler is in the form of a silver flower, pierced to emit the scented water. The stem is modelled as an elephant’s head and trunk, with well-placed silver plaques to emulate the elephant’s eyes, trunk, projecting ears and other details. The base of the stem is decorated with a series of silver plaques including four which are embossed with figures of the deity Ganesh.

    The stem rises from a collar overlaid with silver plaques and decorated with four finely cast yali masks with noses that drape down to the compressed, spherical body of the sprinkler. The body itself is decorated with silver and brass plaques with a range of motifs including Hindu deities.

    The domed foot is similarly decorated with silver plaques.

    An inscription around the rim of the foot reads ‘Presented to E.M. MacPhail Esqr M.A. by the Students of the Madras Christian College 1887’.

    The Madras Christian College (MCC) is a liberal arts and sciences college in Madras (now called Chennai). It was founded in 1837, and is one of Asia’s oldest surviving colleges. It is affiliated with the University of Madras, and today is one of India’s highest ranked colleges in terms of academic performance. Professor Earle Monteith Macphail (1861-1937) served as Principal of the MCC. In 1919, he was awarded the CBE, and in 1924 he was made Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire.

    The sprinkler is in well-preserved condition. Unusually for an example of Tanjore work, there are no losses to the silver and brass plaques. The detailing on the sprinkler is exquisite and so too is its form.


    Birdwood, G., The Industrial Arts of India, 1880.

    Chakravarthy, P., Thanjavur: A Cultural History, Niyogi Books, 2010.

    Michell, G., & I. Viswanathan Peterson, The Great Temple at Thanjavur, Marg, 2010.

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