A RARE MUGHAL CARVED EMERALD, 17TH CENTURY
DR. USHA R BALAKRISHNAN
In Islam, green is the colour of Paradise. Flowers, and Holy verses were carved on emeralds to enhance the powerful magical properties believed to be embedded in the stone. Hence, the green emerald, together with the floral motifs are a direct reference to Paradise, assuring the wearer of the amulet good health, long life, and entry into Paradise. The flowers appear to emerge from the depths of the emerald, restrained yet with naturalistic perfection.
The deep green Colombian gem undoubtedly arrived as a rough in Goa, the Portuguese entrêpot on the western coast of India sometime in the seventeenth century. Retaining the natural hexagonal shape in which emeralds are formed, the lapidary has shaped the rough into an amulet, and carved it with floral motifs. The gem would have been simply strung and tied around the upper arm as a bazuband (armband), or worn as pendant on a string of pearls.
The three flowers are perfectly arranged on the surface of the emerald like compositions on a canvas or a manuscript page. Floral imagery became a dynastic leitmotif in the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan conspicuous in paintings, textiles, carpets, architecture, and jewellery and gemstones. Jahangir's court artist Mansur was commissioned to paint beautiful flower studies, the folios of the album bearing his name assembled by Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan during the 1630s are replete with flower paintings. The lily, poppy, narcissus, chrysanthemums and a variety of other flowering plants can be seen in profusion in the pietra dura decoration on the Taj Mahal. The intense velvet green colour, and the translucent beauty of the gemstone, its impressive weight, and the exquisite carving all combine to suggest an imperial provenance. The sophisticated elegance, and soft beauty of the floral motifs, and the perfectly executed carving are hallmarks of Mughal aesthetics, and of lapidary skills of craftsmen who worked in ateliers located predominantly in Goa in the Deccan, and in Agra and Banaras.
This beautiful gem joins the small group of antique carved emeralds dating to the seventeenth century when the Mughal Empire was at its apotheosis in India. Every carved emerald of this size and quality, heretofore hidden away in private collections, that appears on the market is a significant indicator of the refinement of the Mughal era. A carved heart-shaped emerald with a single lily on a slim stem with leaves is strikingly similar to the carving on the present emerald.
*See: Usha R Balakrishnan. "Bhagat: Perfection in Creation." India: Jewels that Enchanted the World. Exh cat. (2014), No. 299, p. 412–413.
Sotheby's is grateful to Dr. Usha Balakrishnan for her insight onthis Mughal jewel.
Dr. Usha R Balakrishnan is a Cultural Capital Consultant basein Mumbai. She is a highly regarded independent scholar of Indian art and culture, and the pre-eminent historian of Indian jewellery. Some of her publications include Nizams of the Deccan: A Legacy of Power & Grace (2018), Enduring Splendor: Jewelry of India's Thar Desert (2017), Alamkāra: The Beautyof Ornament (2015), India: Jewels that Enchanted the World (2014), Splendours of the Orient: Gold Jewels from Old Goa (2014), Icons in Gold: Jewelry of India from the Collection of the Musee Barbier-Mueller (2004), Jewels of the Nizams (2001), Dance of the Peacock: Jewellery Traditions of India (1999).