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A superb north Indian Mughal flask or surai, c.1700

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Middle Eastern: Metalwork: Pre 1700: Item # 1258418

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A superb north Indian Mughal flask or surai, c.1700
Although easily mistaken for a vase, this vessel is a type of ewer called a “surai” in the Islamic world. A masterpiece of north Indian, Mughal (1526-1858) metal ware, this silvered brass surai is from the Rajasthan area, circa 1700. Surai are traditionally water pouring vessels used for hand and foot washing before Muslim prayers or when greeting an honored guest in one’s home. However, certain Mughal surai were used for serving wine. This surai is beautifully proportioned and the casting is seamless. The globular body, bringing to mind a fanciful architectural dome, is comprised of sixteen gadroons (or inwardly curved facets) and is raised on a correspondingly faceted foot. The long, outwardly flaring neck has flattened sides connecting to a hexagonal mouth with an articulated and stepped lip and is joined at the shoulder by an inverted flower form with 28 delicate, petal-like lappets possibly intended to represent a lotus. The vessel exhibits a pleasing balance between its plain and ornate surfaces and is a superb example of Mughal metalwork in both its design and execution. See Zebrowski, M. “Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India” which devotes an entire page (47) to an illustration of a nearly identical bottle obviously from the same workshop. Condition: No scratches, dents or repairs and retaining much of its original silvering which is evenly worn although more intact, as it should be, on the less exposed and largely untouched underside. Dimensions: 27cm (10-3/4”). Weight: 1.069Kg (2 lbs. 5.7 ozs.). For a similar but somewhat inferior example seen at auction, lacking the elegant form and decoration of the present example, see Christie’s “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds” (Sale 7571), London, April 8, 2001. Lot 283 is described as “A North Indian Ribbed White Bronze Flask /Late 16th or 17th Century” and sold for 3,750 pounds ($7,433). Of approximately the same size (27.6 cm) as our example, the somewhat clumsy, bulbous body of the Christie’s example is comprised of raised ribs rather than the more integral gadroons seen here. Surai, being pouring vessels or ewers, often have handles and spouts such as seen on a later bronze example (item 713957) in this catalog. It may seem puzzling to some that the Islamic Mughals drank alcoholic beverages— and also cultivated portrait painting— but Mughal jade wine cups, and portraits, are well represented in museum collections, many of which would pair well with the understated decadent style of this surai. Copyright © 2014 by Robert McCaffrey for Ruyi Studio San Francisco. All Rights Reserved.

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