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Mughal Hookah Bubbles Up 234,000 Pounds at Bonhams Islamic & Indian Sale
Copied by Shaykh Hamdullah (b. circa 1436-37, d. 1520), from Ottoman Turkey, probably Constantinople, late 15th Century. It made £110,000 against an estimate of £40,000 to £60,000. Photo: Bonhams.
LONDON.- A rare intact Mughal gilt-decorated glass hookah base from the first half of the 18th Century India created great excitement at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Sale at Bonhams yesterday when it sold for £234,000 against a pre-sale estimated £8,000 to £12,000. The sale made a final total of £1.6m.

The 19.5cm tall gilded green glass bowl has a globular body and short cylindrical neck with a rib. It is decorated with a frieze of poppy plants alternating with cypress trees reserved in gilt.

The known history of this hookah bowl starts with John Clough (1904-1947), a High Court Judge in Calcutta (there is a memorial to him in St Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta), an avid collector of Indian furniture and works of art. It passed down through the family to the present owner who was delighted with the unexpectedly high price at Bonhams.

Bidri hookah bases of the first half of the 17th Century became the models for those made in jade, enamel, metal and glass in Mughal India. The influence was seen not only in shape, but also in decoration, which almost invariable incorporated floral of vegetal motifs. A common design was large flowering plants at intervals around the surface.

One of the earliest depictions of a glass hookah base appears in a painting of a shop in a bazaar that is thought to have been produced at Bikaner circa 1700.

Another item that outperformed its pre-sale estimate was an illuminated Qur'an copied by Shaykh Hamdullah (b. circa 1436-37, d. 1520), from Ottoman Turkey, probably Constantinople, late 15th Century. It made £110,000 against an estimate of £40,000 to £60,000. This Arabic manuscript of 372 paper pages with 13 lines to the page was written in elegant naskhi script in black ink, with vowel points in black and red, and gold roundels between verses.

Finally an exquisite Safavid woven silk and gilt-metal-thread panel from 17th Century Persia, expected to sell for £15,000 to £20,000 went on to make £49,400. A small scrap of silk textile, no bigger than a hand towel, decorated with a series of repeated silver parrots perched on leafy branches amidst orange peonies and blue carnations on gold coloured ground it was part of a collection of Safavid textiles which sold for £152,400.

European travellers who were resourceful enough to reach Isfahan created by Shah Abbas I in 1598 were astonished by the rich dress of the inhabitants. Conspicuous consumption was a social obligation demanded by the Shah. This was a shrewd move to develop expensive tastes in his subjects thus reviving Persia’s brilliant history in textile design, famous through the Eastern and Roman worlds. There was a constant round of court festivities with extravagant parties held in palace gardens affording opportunities to display magnificent clothes.

Head of Islamic and Indian Art at Bonhams, Kristina Sanne, comments: “It is a privilege to hold these sumptuous fabrics in one’s hands. They provided an endless palette for their wearers to create visions of loveliness that rival and exceed anything we see today in the fashion capitals of the world.”

Bonhams | Islamic & Indian Sale | Kristina Sanne |


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