1. FLORAL SPRAYS RISING FROM A VASE
Northern India (Mughal, probably Lahore or Kashmir)
Height: 18 cm Width: 16 cm
A tile in the cuerda seca technique with a design of composite flowers on multiple stems accompanied by long blade-like and short serrated leaves, rising from the widening trumpet mouth of a vase decorated with an arabesque of split-leaf palmettes. The central flower resembles a hyacinth superimposed with a small soft-petalled flower to the centre while the two lobe-petalled flowers to the upper right and left corners have small serrated flowers like daisies in the centre. Further flowers can be glimpsed to the top centre and on the sides. The flower petals have a distinctive white margin which is the white slip with which the earthenware body is covered before the application of other colours outlined by the manganese brown of the cuerda seca technique.
This tile relates closely in design, colours, technique and stylistic treatment of the flowers and leaves, including the distinctive white outline of the petals against the green ground, to a group of tiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London said to come from the tomb of the saint Shah Madani at But Kadal, Zabidal, near Srinagar in Kashmir.
The group in the Victoria Albert Museum was acquired from Mr Frederick H. Andrews in 1923. He had been living in Srinagar, where he was the Director of the Technical Institute of Kashmir, and wrote to the museum in 1922 offering to sell his collection before he left that year to return to the United Kingdom. He said that the tiles were part of the decoration of the Madani mosque and tomb but the Victoria and Albert Museum believe that though the tiles were installed in a Kashmiri monument, they were probably made in Lahore.
The tiles at the tomb of Shah Madani show similarities of design and colour to the present example. According to Rosemary Crill, the tomb dates from the mid fifteenth century, but it was refurbished by a Mughal nobleman during the reign of Shah Jahan, when tiles in the cuerda seca technique were installed.(1) A group of thirteen Mughal tiles from the tomb of Shah Madani, from the donation of Jean et Krishnâ Riboud in the Musée Guimet, Paris, is published in Amina Okada, L’Inde des Princes: La donation et Jean et Krishnâ Riboud , 2000, pp. 128-133.
A group of thirteen tiles from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, also said to come from the tomb of Shah Madani, was exhibited and published in Robert Skelton et al, The Indian Heritage: Court Life and Arts under Mughal Rule, 1982, pp. 26-27, no. 5. Some of the tiles have designs closely related to the Riboud donation at the Guimet.
The use of the cuerda seca technique would also have been learnt from Safavid tile-makers. In this technique, the design is outlined on the fired tile with a manganese purple pigment mixed with a greasy substance, which separates the areas to be coloured. These are then painted with a brush and the tile is fired a second time. The greasy lines disappear, leaving a dark brownish outline separating the different colours. Cuerda seca, literally meaning “dry cord” in Spanish, was developed during the latter part of the fourteenth century in Central Asia.
The cuerda seca technique (kashi) was brought to northern India from Iran. Robert Skelton has made the observation that “even in recent times, the makers of glazed tiles (kashigars) have been Muslims, whereas Hindu builders (sutradhars) have restricted themselves to working with unglazed terracotta.(2) The use of a resist application between the colours gives distinct separation between them and a clarity of line which is particularly effective in architectural decoration. The tiles combine glaze techniques learnt from Persian craftsmen with a palette that is distinctly Indian in its warmth. It is likely that Lahore was one of the principal centres of the Mughal cuerda seca tile manufacture, but tiles in the cuerda seca technique may also have been made in Kashmir for the monuments constructed there.
The Howard Hodgkin Collection
Sotheby’s, London, Tuesday, 24th October 2017, Howard Hodgkin: Portrait of the Artist, lot 377.
1. See Robert Skelton et al, The Indian Heritage: Court Life and Arts under Mughal Rule, 1982, pp. 26-27, nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, for a discussion of Mughal tiles in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.