This huqqa base, with irises and other flowers, would have originally been fitted with a long stem supporting a brazier and a pipe through which the smoker would have inhaled.
Many of the known examples of Indian huqqa bases from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were made in the Deccan region and decorated with the type of metal inlay known as bidri, in which the base metal (a zinc alloy) of the object is darkened through a chemical process to highlight the sheen of the inlaid metal of the floral ornament.
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Title:Base for a Water Pipe (Huqqa) with Irises
Date:late 17th century
Geography:Made in India, Deccan, Bidar
Medium:Zinc alloy; cast, engraved, inlaid with brass (bidri ware)
Dimensions:H. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm) Diam. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm)
Credit Line:Louis E. and Theresa S. Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art and Rogers Fund, 1984
Bidri Water Pipe Base
Of the small number of known bidri objects that predate the eighteenth century, a majority are huqqa (water pipe) bases. Tobacco arrived in India sometime in the late sixteenth century, brought by the Portuguese from the New World to the port of Goa. The plant acclimatized well, and its popularity soon spread from the western Deccan northward into Mughal territories. By 1620 tobacco was used all over, and while coconut shells were first employed as the hot-water chamber for the pipe, sometime around the mid-seventeenth century Bidar craftsmen were creating huqqa bases that rank among the most attractive decorative objects of the period. These early examples are nearly always spherical, though one or two ovoid examples are known. To remain stable, the base would rest on a bidri ring; with very rare exceptions, the rings seem to have all been lost. Four of the five examples in this volume (cat. nos.86–90) are inlaid with both silver and brass, which is a characteristic of early bidri. They would have been highly prized possessions of the Deccani rulers and their courtiers, or of the Mughal and Rajput aristocracy who arrived with the Mughal armies that gradually conquered the Deccan from 1636 to the end of the century.
John Robert Alderman in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)
The style of decoration, use of a single metal for inlay, and short neck with everted rim all point to a date late in the seventeenth century for this huqqa base. The graceful play of upright stem and leaves with drooping blossoms recalls the depiction of the iris plant on the kalamkari tent panel, and the delicate sprinkling of flowers against the background is a more restrained version of the decoration found in the huqqa described as cat. no. 89 in this volume.
Marika Sardar in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)
1- Bidri Huqqa (Water Pipe) Base with Tall Flowers in Arches, and Associated Ring, Zebrowski, Mark, "Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India". London: Alexandria Press, in association with Laurence King, 1997, p. 224, pl. 360, p. 302, pl. 504.
2- Bidri Huqqa (Water Pipe) Base with Irises. Stuart Cary Welch and Carolyn Kane in Metropolitan Museum of Art 1985, p. 9; S. C. Welch, "India: Art and Culture, 1300–1900." Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1985, pp. 322, 323, no. 218; Metropolitan Museum of Art 1987, p. 152, pl. 117; Walker 1997, p. 118, fig. 117; Zebrowski, Mark, "Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India". London: Alexandria Press, in association with Laurence King, 1997, p. 234, pl. 389; Haidar, Navina Najat, "Art of South Asia (14th to 19th Centuries)." In Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011a, p. 341; Marika Sardar in Metropolitan Museum of Art 2011, p. 386, no. 274.
3- Panel from a Tent Lining with a Fantastical Flower. Wheeler, Monroe, "Textiles and Ornaments of India: A Selection of Designs." Exh. cat. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1956, p. 47; Smart, Ellen S., "A Preliminary Report on a Group of Important Mughal Textiles." Textile Museum Journal 25, 1986, p. 14, fig. 18, p. 21, no. 19.
Water Pipe Base
This object is the base of a water pipe, or huqqa. Originally, a pipe for inhalation and a long stem supporting a brazier would have been connected to its neck, and the base would have nestled into a ring that kept it steady on the floor. Few if any complete huqqas survive from this period, and the bases (a few with matching rings) are what are preserved in museums today; the appearance of the full apparatus can be reconstructed only from paintings. Many of the known huqqa bases from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were made in the Deccan and decorated with the type of metal inlay known as bidri.
With its almost spherical shape, short neck, and everted rim, this object is typical of late-seventeenth-century bidri huqqa bases. However, the refined frieze of flowering plants, set against a background lightly sprinkled with blossoms, sets it apart from other, more heavily decorated examples. One might be tempted to see the influence of Mughal aesthetics in the depiction and disposition of elements here. Flowers and plants were the most popular type of decoration for huqqa bases, although several examples depicting architectural fantasies and, later in the eighteenth century, Neoclassical motifs are also known.
Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See the discussion in Zebrowski 1997, pp. 225–45.
The forms of bidriware are infinitely varied and always useful: huqqa bases, containers for spices and for betel nut and the lime and spices to go with it, wine and sherbet bottles, salvers, dishes, cups, and many more. Always eager to attract new markets, the metalworkers of Bidar adjusted their styles over the centuries to satisfy all manner of clients. Deccani sultans and their courtiers, Mughals, Rajputs, and rich merchants, French, English, and other Europeans—all were offered irresistibly enticing objects, which were often kept as eye-pleasers in architectural niches.
Using tracings, designers of bidri objects borrowed motifs from textiles, architectural ornament, and many other sources, sensitively adapting them and changing the patterns according to their own good judgment and to their patrons' tastes. Although bidriware has survived in considerable quantities from the mid-seventeenth century onward, no two objects are quite alike. From decade to decade, the precise formula of its alloy of zinc, tin, and copper varied almost as much as its ornament. Presumably, the ateliers descended within families which maintained trade secrets, pattern books, and networks of customers through the years, offering goods of varying levels of quality and price based on metal content, workmanship, and design. In the late eighteenth century, craftsmen from Bidar may have moved to Lucknow and there developed styles pleasing to the local nawabs and their courts.
The Metropolitan Museum's huqqa base is distinguished for its bold yet delicate floral brass inlays, masterfully related to the globular form of the bowl.
[ Bashir Mohamed Ltd, London, until 1982; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "INDIA !," September 14–September 14, 1985, no. 218.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era," November 20, 1997–March 1, 1998, fig. 117.
New York. The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, 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–July 26, 2015, no. 90.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 42 (1984–1985). p. 9, ill. (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. India: Art and Culture 1300–1900. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985. no. 218, pp. 322–23, ill. p. 322 (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 152, ill. fig. 117 (color).
Walker, Daniel S. Flowers Underfoot : Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. pp. 117–18, ill. fig. 117 (b/w).
Zebrowski, Mark. Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India. London: Laurence King Publishers, 1997. pp. 234–35, ill. pl. 389 (b/w).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 274, pp. 341, 386, ill. p. 386 (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. 90, p. 186, ill. (color).
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