An Islamic Brass Ewer, Northern India/Persia

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Northern India/Persia, 18th/19th century. Standing on a flared foot which rises to a tear-shaped body, the neck flares slightly to the opening, with the S-shaped handle and bent spout with floral-form head, the body is engraved with two cartouches decorated with Islamic script, on a scrolling flower ground with a hunter on horseback, tigers, dear, rabbits and birds.

H. 20 cm

Note: Typical Islamic ewers comprised a central chamber to which a spout, foot, handle and neck were attached. They permitted water to flow – Koranic injunctions deemed flowing water to be ‘clean’. Ewers were introduced to India by Muslim invaders during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Thereafter their designs were Indianized – the ewers became more curvaceous and were decorated with lush plant and floral motifs. In India, local Muslims used such vessels for handwashing. They became a practical tool of hospitality, being used to welcome visitors by pouring scented water over the hands and feet and into a basin. In this way, the motifs employed on such vessels in Northern India can be seen as particularly appropriate: the scrolling arabesques and trellised cartouches of floral sprays can be seen as representative of a paradisiacal garden, a destination of pleasure and balm – the orderly, repeated pattern of floral cartouches can be seen as representing the ordered layout of the idealised Islamic garden The chevron patterns on both the neck and handle, lightly repeated around the base, as well as the tiger stripe motif on the handle and spout, convey a sense of flowing water, both in terms of the ‘streams’ which one would expect to find in a Mughal garden, and, by dint of both the direction of travel – away from the handle and down the spout – and with the curvature of both of these features of the ewer, a sense of movement is achieved which would be lacking in a strictly repeated foliate design. Ref.: Michael Backman Ltd, London. Thomas, D., ‘The carnation ewer – an example of Ottoman influence on North Indian ewers’, unpublished paper, 2011.

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