Bahmanid, Deccan, India
Late 16th century
Copper Alloy Repoussé
H: 32 cm

This elegant ewer from the Deccan peoples of the Bahmanid Sultanate of the late 16th century is a magnificent example of the dragon-handled and dragon-spouted vessels as interpreted in the Sultanates of the Deccan, renowned for the opulence and decadence of its courts.

Rising from a conical trumpet foot, the fluted globular form of the ewer rises in a tapering neck, through a spherical element, khumba, and to a concave, or pagoda, shaped top. At the side of the superior element, an extension leads directly into the mouth of a dragon’s head functioning as the finial of the sinuous handle. The handle curves into an ‘S’ shape and, at the bottom, we observe a small zoomorphic element nestled within the crook of the lower coil before the handle reaches in a foot-like extension to join the body of the container.

The curving faceted spout, serpentine in form and interrupted by a single spherical ornament, depicts another magnificent dragon at the mouth, its jaws agape to produce the pouring opening of the ewer. The dragons can also be seen as manifestations of a Makara, a legendary sea-creature in Hindu mythology; furthermore, they reveal the heritage of Timurid dragon-handled and dragon-spouted vessels.

The globular body of the ewer is segmented into a series of wide vertical flutes and within these we see a series of floral decoration in shallow engraving. These culminate in a vertical band decorated with a series of interconnected organic forms. The neck also displays geometric forms along its faceting.

Tinned copper vessels and ewers of this shape and style have long puzzled Islamic scholars, who have at times attributed them to Iran; other times to Northern India and Deccan; and occasionally even to the Ottoman lands. It seems likely that some peculiar features of the decorative repertoire of 16th and 17th-century metal vessels would fluidly move from one production to the other, according to the taste of the time, of their makers and patrons. This is definitely the case with the so-called ‘rosette bands’ and ‘dragon heads’, recurrent elements in both Safavid and Indian metalware. According to Zebrowski, stylised dragon heads without fangs and crests, unlike the Timurid beasts, should be interpreted as makaras, Indian mythical aquatic creatures similar to a crocodile, and could thus be ascribed to India.

Provenance: Private collection, UK, 1971.

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