Jade was one of the primary materials for Mughal sculptural expression between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. It was used in a wide variety of Mughal ornamentations such as weapon hilts, wine cups, boxes amongst others. Such objects were mentioned by the sixteenth century European traveler, Francois Bernier, as items of presentation by and for Mughal Emperors and the Emperor Jahangir was himself associated with a collection of engraved jade wine cups (Constable 1891, p. 426). Nephrite jade was sourced from the Kunlun Mountains in China’s Xinjiang province and was symptomatic of a wider Asiatic trade pioneered by the fourteenth century Chinese Ming and Turco-Mongol Timurid dynasty, the latter from whom the Indian Mughals claimed descent. The extensive use of jade, with its exotic origins, may have reflected Mughal genealogical aspirations as well as their outward desire to engage with and subsume foreign cultures. Despite a lack of surviving textual sources, it has been speculated that the techniques of Mughal jade working would have utilised those found in other craft industries, such as gemstone lapidaries, who would have used hard abrasives and bow-lathes in their production (Markel 2008).
The use of jade in the fabrication of a candlestick is highly rare and unusual. The form takes on that of medieval bell shaped candlesticks found throughout the Islamic world, a direct emulation which indicates that their wasn’t an extensive developing tradition of Mughal jade candlesticks. The closest parallels to such an object can be found in East Asia. A Ming era jade candlestick was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1935-1936 ( St. George Spendlove & Royal Academy of Arts 1935, pl. 251, no. 2790) and another can be found in the National Palace Museum of Taipei (Shu-Ping 1983, pp. 254-55, pl. 65). This piece therefore retains some stylistic heritage with the Chinese origins of its material and is a testament to the extensive intra-Asiatic movement of ideas and techniques.