Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 75. An exceptional Khurasan silver-inlaid bronze inkwell, probably Herat, circa 1200.

An exceptional Khurasan silver-inlaid bronze inkwell, probably Herat, circa 1200

Auction Closed

March 31, 12:40 PM GMT


80,000 - 120,000 GBP

Lot Details


of cylindrical form applied with three hinged handles, decorated in silver inlay with roundels featuring the twelve signs of the zodiac, harpies and animal-headed scrolls in between, the internal drip-tray with a band of calligraphy, the underside of base with a central enthroned figure surrounded by cartouches with hares and three drop-form silver overlaid feet, the cover with a central domed section surmounted by a bud finial, three loop handles, decorated with roundels containing harpies, further seated figures on domed section and running hares to the sides  

11.5cm. height; 9cm. diam. 

Ex-private collection, U.A.E., acquired from the European art market in 1975.
Private collection, London.

‘Glory and prosperity and wealth and endurance and generosity’

This inkwell is in remarkably good condition, retaining most of its original inlay and with many of the incised details in the inlay still discernable. It is decorated with a complex astrological design matching that of lot 74.

One of the most prominent motifs on this inkwell is the enthroned figure of Jawzhar between a pair of dragon-headed staves, featuring four times around the body and at the centre of the underside. Jawzhar is the pseudo-planetary figure responsible for the lunar and solar eclipses. He originates from the Hindu deity Rahu whose attribute is the severed head of a dragon (W. Hartner 'The Vaso Vescovali in the British Museum. A Study on Islamic Astrological Iconography', in Kunst des Orients, 9, 1973, p.121). Hence in Islamic astrology he is depicted with the head of a dragon placed on a stave at either side. Rahu had sipped from the drink bestowing immortality, amrita, against the wishes of the Gods. Denounced by the sun and the moon, Vishnu severed his head. But now immortal, his head and body remained to seek vengeance against the sun and moon. Whenever they might, the two parts of Rahu attempt to devour the sun and the moon and thereby cause sola and lunar eclipses, respectively (W. Hartner, 'The Pseudo-planetary Nodes of the Moon's Orbit in Hindu and Islamic Iconographies' in Ars Islamica, V, pt.2, 1938, p.131). Often treated as a real planet, al-Biruni, the famous medieval scholar, even ascribed Jawzhar with special degrees indicating the highest and lowest points of influence, namely Gemini 3° and Sagittarius 3°, respectively. In Islamic astrology, the association of these two signs with the pseudo-planet Jawzhar became standard. 

Each of the Zodiacal figures appear in roundels which surround each apparition of Jawzhar along the inkwell's body. These relate closely to those found on an early-thirteenth-century brass-inlaid ewer formerly in the Nuhad Es-Said Collection (J.W. Allan, Islamic Metalwork, the Nuhad Es-Said Collection, London, 1982, p.46, no.5). There are twelve harpies that appear in roundels on the lid of the inkwell un-coincidentally recalling the twelve zodiacal symbols. Unusually, these were reserved on a silver-sheet ground, an experimental technique of the twelfth century inlayers to enhance the richness of the decoration (Treasures of Islam, exh. cat., ed. Falk, Musee d'art et d'histoire, Geneva, 1985, p.257). For further examples of inkwells with zodiac symbols, see E. Baer, Metalwork in Medieval Islamic Art, New York, 1983, figs.59, 203, 212. Another inkwell with twelve zodiac medallions, missing its lid, attributed to the late twelfth/early thirteenth century Persia, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no.44.131. Another variant of this design on an inkwell from the same period is also in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no.59.69.2a, b.