In spite of its modest size, this flask in the shape of a mango, adorned with gold, gems, and enameling, eloquently demonstrates the artistic standards and tastes of seventeenth-century Mughal India. Likely to have been created during the reign of Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the famous Taj Mahal, the flask expresses the Mughal love of natural forms and precious materials. The finely balanced, elegantly drawn, and relatively spacious network of scrolling vines in gold, inset with gemstones, recalls the Mughal debt to Safavid Iran, where similar networks of scrolling vines with palmettes, blossoms, and leaves were in vogue in the sixteenth century.
During India’s Mughal period, the jeweled arts were greatly patronized by the ruling family and nobility who often appear in paintings holding or handling precious objects. Various exquisite rock-crystal inlaid objects were created for courtly use, with a notable group surviving in a private collection in Kuwait. Mughal taste for such treasures had deep roots: in India, carved and polished rock crystal had been used from ancient times to create Buddhist and Hindu religious artifacts. Within an Islamic context, hardstone carving of vessels and luxury items also had a long tradition in parts of the Near East.
This diminutive curved flask is created by two halves of rock crystal fitted together to form its body and held in place in part by a cage of meandering scrolls in gold wire. The finely balanced, elegantly drawn arabesques, inset with rubies and emeralds in gold mounts, recall the Mughal debt to Safavid Iran, where similar networks of scrolling vines with palmettes, blossoms, and leaves were in vogue in the sixteenth century, although in different media, including tilework and illumination. The Mughal penchant for natural shapes is demonstrated in the mango-shaped profile of the bottle and in the bud form of the enamel stopper. Red leaves on a white background create the decoration on the stopper, and a delicate gold chain connects it to the collar.
The bottle may have been meant to hold lime, an ingredient of pan, a mildly intoxicating narcotic popularly used in India. Alternatively, this object may have been used as a container for perfume, which was worn by both men and women in the Mughal period. Two other rock-crystal flasks (one recorded in 1690) of this shape and size are known in European collections. In other media, a mango-shaped bidri-ware flagon and a silver flask are comparable vessels. The gently curving mango shape also appears widely as a repeating motif in textile patterns.
Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals. Exhibition, British Museum, London, and other cities. Catalogue by Manuel Keene with Salam Kaoukji. London, 2001, pp. 32–33, nos. 2.5–2.8.
2. Published: Walker 1993; Walker et al. 1994, pp. 240–41.
3. Folsach 2011, p. 238, fig. 370, p. 332, fig. 537; also in Cosmophilia: Islamic Art from the David Collection, Copenhagen. Exhibition, McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College; Alfred and David Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. Catalogue by Sheila S. Blair, Jonathan M. Bloom, and others. Chestnut Hill, Mass., 2006; Chicago 2006, p. 171, no. 96; Leatham, Victoria. Burghley: The Life of a Great House. 1992. London, 2000, p.170, recorded in 1690.
4. Topsfield 2004, p. 239 and n. 2, no. 99, for a silver and fabric example; Folsach 2011, p. 332, fig. 537.
[ Spink & Sons Ltd., London, until 1993; sold to MMA]
Mexico City. Colegio de San Ildefonso. "Arte islamico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York," September 30, 1994–January 8, 1995, no. 98.
"M.M.A. Recent Acquisitions 1992–93." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 51, no. 2 (Fall 1993). p. 23, ill. (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Daniel S. Walker, Arturo Ponce Guadián, Sussan Babaie, Stefano Carboni, Aimee Froom, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, Tomoko Masuya, Annie Christine Daskalakis-Matthews, Abdallah Kahil, and Rochelle Kessler. "Colegio de San Ildefonso, Septiembre de 1994-Enero de 1995." In Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994. no. 98, pp. 240-241, ill. p. 241 (color).
Topsfield, Andrew, ed. "Arts of India." In In the Realm of Gods and Kings. London; New York: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2004. p. 239, ill., n. 2, no. 99: mango-shaped bidri-ware flagon and a silver flask.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 257, pp. 340, 367-368, ill. p. 368 (color).
Von Folsach, Kjeld. Art from the World of Islam in the David Collection. Copenhagen, 2011. pp. 238, 332, ill. figs. 370, 537, Two related rock-crystal flasks in European collections.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 15, ill. fig. 30 (color).