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This unusual Indian hookah vase is of bell-shaped form – a form that dates to the early 18th century. It is decorated with both silver inlay in a trellis formation, and with sheet silver around the shoulder of the vessel which has been engraved with foliage motifs.
Bidriware is believed to have 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 usually with silver. A paste that contains sal ammoniac is then applied which turns the ally dark black but leaving the silver 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.
Hookah bases were used across northern and central India as devices for smoking tobacco.
The example here is in fine condition. There are some minor dents to the silver overlay on the vessel’s shoulder and some losses to the silver inlay but these are compensated for by the unusual nature of the use of silver over and inlay, and also by the unusual nature of silver inlay decoration itself.
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 or 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.