Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Palanquin Finials with Lotuses

Object Name:
Finials
Date:
ca. 1650–80
Geography:
Probably made in India, Deccan, Golconda
Medium:
Copper; cast, pierced, chased, and gilded
Dimensions:
(a) H. 11 1/2 in. (29 cm); L. 20 1/2 in. (52 cm); W. 6 in. (15 cm) (b) H. 11 in. (28 cm); L. 22 1/2 in. (57 cm); W. 6 in. (15 cm)
Classification:
Metal
Credit Line:
Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 1995
Accession Number:
1995.258a, b
Not on view
These finials were made to adorn the poles of a palanquin, a covered conveyance consisting of a large box carried by bearers. Their particularly fine decoration includes a pierced, openwork pattern of flattened lotus pods and scrolling vines on the body, and lotus flowers that issue from the domed ends.

Golconda paintings depicting grand processions indicate that such occasions were a frequent occurrence in the Qutb Shahi capital at this time. In addition, written descriptions also convey the spectacle of these events, as Abbé Carré, a seventeenth-century observer, noted: "It was a great pleasure and most interesting each morning to watch the pomp and magnificence of the princes and nobles of this place, who display their riches, jewels and precious stones, to excite the envy of the others. Some adorn their elephants; some the harness of their horses and their arms; while others decorate their palanquins with rich ornaments, and above all wear splendid clothes, which lend great brilliance to their assemblies."[1]


Finials, such as these, were used as ornaments on the ends of poles that supported palanquins carrying their elite riders.[2] Paintings and surviving finials demonstrate that lotus flowers and pinecone shapes were popular decorative motifs on these gilt-copper objects.[3] While historically the lotus has special meaning in Buddhism and Hinduism,[4] in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mughal and Deccan art, lotus imagery seems to have been used in a decorative rather than symbolic way. As a plant associated with water, however, perhaps the royal palanquin was conceived as a resplendent gondola, gliding on the bearers’ shoulders as if through a pool full of blossoms.


Two Deccani miniature paintings from the early eighteenth century suggest an interesting gender divide during this period, as evidenced among different styles of finials. In a depiction of a woman’s palanquin, indicated by closed curtains, the finials of the lotus type are seen (fig. 77, Woman’s Processional Scene (detail), Hyderabad, early 18th century. In the man’s procession, however, the finials are ornamented with a fierce group of animal figures (fig. 78, Male Processional Scene (detail), Hyderabad, early 18th century.[5] The finials with undulating lotuses here were once part of the same private collection assembled by a Hyderabad nobleman in the 1920s. They may have been produced in the same workshop or perhaps even adorned the same palanquin used by the Hyderabadi royalty.


Courtney Stewart in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)

Footnotes:

1- M. E. F. Fawcett and C. Fawcett, "The Travels of the Abbé Carré in India and the Near East, 1672 to 1674." Translated by Marion Edith Fry Fawcett. Edited by Charles Fawcett, with Richard Burn. London: Hakluyt Society, 1947, vol. 2, pp. 327–28.


2- The pinecone and lotus-shaped finials may also have been used to ornament the tops of imperial umbrellas, canopies, or tents. See Wedding Procession of Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaelogy, University of Oxford, Lent by Howard Hodgkin [LI118.15]) and Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II in Procession (Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, Lent by Howard Hodgkin [LI118.121]). Thanks to Keelan Overton for pointing this out.

3- They were used into later periods and spread beyond the Deccan. See Chitarman II, Emperor Muhammad Shah with Falcon Viewing His Garden at Sunset from a Palanquin, ca. 1750, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (26.283). An example attributed to nineteenth-century Rajasthan is published in Welch, Stuart Carey, India: Art and Culture, 1300-1900. Exh. cat. New, York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1985, p. 436, no. 288.

4- Ward, William E., "The Lotus Symbol: Its Meaning in Buddhist Art and Philosophy." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 11, no. 2 (December), pp. 135–46, 1952.

5- For other zoomorphic finials, see the elephant with a lotus growing from its trunk and the lion-headed finials in Mughal Silver Magnificence 1987, pp. 70, 71, nos. 55, 57. See also the dragon finials in Emperor Farrukhsiyar Being Paraded in a Palanquin in the collection of Gursharan and Elvira Sidhu, Seattle; Jorrit Britschgi in Guy, John, and Jorrit Britschgi, Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100-1900. Exh. cat.; 2011–12. New York: The Metropolitan, Museum of Art, 2011, p. 139, no. 70.
Private collection, Europe; [ Terence McInerney, until 1995; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Courtly Radiance: Metalwork from Islamic India," September 25, 2001–May 5, 2002, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20, 2015–July 26, 2015, no. 142.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 54, no. 2 (1995–1996). p. 18, ill. (color).

Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "Opulence and Fantasy." In Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. no. 142, pp. 246-248, ill. pl. 142a–h, 142i.



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