The Pleasure of Objects: The Ian & Carolina Irving Collection

The Pleasure of Objects: The Ian & Carolina Irving Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 114. An Indo-Portuguese Brass and Mother-of-Pearl Ewer, Gujarat, Early 17th Century.

An Indo-Portuguese Brass and Mother-of-Pearl Ewer, Gujarat, Early 17th Century

Auction Closed

January 30, 06:14 PM GMT


40,000 - 60,000 USD

Lot Details


height 10 5/8 in.; width 8 5/8 in.; diameter of foot 4 1/2 in.

27 cm; 22 cm; 11.5 cm

Kunstkammer Georg Laue, Munich, acquired at TEFAF Maastricht 2013

Exotica: the Portuguese Discoveries and the Renaissance, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon 2002

Haag, S. (ed.), Dresden & Ambras. Kunstkammerschätzen der Renaissance, exhibition catalogue, Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck 2012

Jaffer, A., Luxury Goods from India. The Art of the Indian Cabinetmaker, London 2002

Moore, A. et al., The Paston Treasure. Microcosm of the Known World., New Haven and London 2018

Schroder, T., British and Continental Gold and Silver in the Ashmolean Museum, Vol. II, Oxford 2009

Seipel, W. (ed.), Exotica. Portugals Entdeckungen im Spiegel fürstlicher Kunst- und Wunderkammern der Renaissance, exhibtion catalogue, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Vienna 2000

The art of decorating objects with mother-of-pearl from the marine snail turbo marmoratus was first recorded in the northwestern Indian state of Gujarat in 1502, when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was received on the east coast of Africa by the King of Melinde, who presented him with gifts including a bedstead made in Gujarat 'wrought with gold and mother of pearl, a very beautiful thing' (Gaspar Correa, The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama, London 1869, p.306). Functional objects such as caskets, chargers, candlesticks and drinking vessels were crafted from brass or wooden substrates veneered with a mosaic of mother of pearl affixed with silver pins, creating exotic and luxurious works of art destined for export via European trading companies.

Gujarati wares were particularly prized by Central European princes and scholarly collectors. Archival records of the Green Vaults in Dresden document the presence of such work in the collection of the Electors of Saxony as early as the second quarter of the 16th century, and a 1598 inventory of the Wittelsbach kunstkammer in Munich lists a silver-gilt mounted mother-of-pearl pouring vessel (Seipel 2000, p.163). An almost identical ewer to the offered lot is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, formerly in the Habsburg Imperial Collections and possibly originally in the kunstkammer formed by Archduke Ferdinand II at Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck, in the late 16th century (Haag 2012, no. 2.55 p.180)[fig.1]. As with European metalwork mother-of-pearl ewers were often created en suite with basins, examples of which are also documented in Tudor England, including a set presented by Thomas Cromwell to Henry VIII in as a New Year's gift in 1534, and a gold-mounted mother-of-pearl ewer and basin given to Elizabeth I by Lord Burghley in 1585 (Jaffer 2002, p.39). A silver-gilt mounted mother-of-pearl flask also appears in the celebrated still-life painting The Paston Treasure by an anonymous Dutch artist (Norwich, Castle Museum) that depicts a selection from the cabinet of curiosities assembled by Sir William Paston, 1st Baronet (d.1663) and his son Sir Robert Paston, 1st Earl of Yarmouth (d.1683) at their family seat Oxnead Hall in Norfolk. The Paston inventory also references additional mother-of-pearl objects in their collection, including 'a bason and ewer', 'one ewer and seven dishes', and 'a dish, all set in scollops' (Moore 2018, cat. no.78).

Gujarati objects initially came to Europe through the Portuguese, who controlled maritime trade routes in the Arabian Sea throughout the 16th century. Following the naval victory of the English East India Company over Portuguese galleons at the Battle of Swally in 1612, and the 1615-1619 embassy of Sir Thomas Roe (d. 1644) to the Mughal Emperor in Agra, however, England supplanted Portugal as the dominant European power in northwest India and established a trading post at the port of Surat. Interestingly, many Gujarati mother-of-pearl works appear to be based on European prototypes, and the form of the offered lot does relate to late 16th century Iberian and French silver models. An even closer resemblance, however, can be observed with a type of ewer composed of a footed beaker with identical S-shaped handle that first appeared in English silver work in the second quarter of the 17th century. The earliest recorded example, bearing the arms of Sir Edward Seymour (d. 1688) and dated 1632-3, is now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Schroder 2009, no. 213 p.574)[fig.2]. It is possible an English silver vessel served as the prototype for this type of Gujarati ewer, and the model was first produced a few decades later than has traditionally been assumed.

In addition to the Habsburg ewer in Vienna, other examples of virtually identical Gujarati mother-of-pearl ewers include a pair with accompanying basins in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (ill. Jaffer, p. 38); a further pair in the British Museum [fig.3], and a ewer with basin in a Lisbon private collection (ill. Exotica 2002, no. 26 p.123). A similar ewer with replaced handle in gilt metal, formerly in the collections of Lord Curzon of Kedleston, Viceroy of India (d. 1925), was sold Lyon and Turnbull, Edinburgh, 23 October 2013 lot 515 (£70,850).