Antique Indian Silver Water Jug,
Crocodile Handle,
Kutch (Cutch) India – circa 1880

This extremely large silver water jug has a tapering cylindrical body, a hinged lid topped by a large beetle, a short steep circular spout surmounted by a dragon and a very striking handle formed from a cast silver crocodile,which has been depicted naturalistically.  The majority of the surface has been finely chased with a profusion of Kutch scrolling floral and foliate designs interspersed with nine animal scenes.  The finely stippled background has been produced by light blows of a pointed tool known as a sum. The unusually large size suggests this jug may have been made as an exhibition piece or commissioned for a regimental mess or similar.

Writing in the Journal of Indian Art in 1883, Baden-Powell’s description of Kutch silverwork states: “The decoration is ..... very rich in general appearance and being all really modelled and worked out ..... The Cutch work is repousse, the flowers, foliage and stems being somewhat highly raised and delicately and sharply defined. Good work is at once known by the sharp and clear cut and good modelling of the forms, as well as by the grace of the curves.” 

This jug avoids the criticism Baden-Powell levels at some Kutch work for “..... leaving no bands or margins of plain metal to contrast with and set off the repousse patterns”. Among the illustration plates which accompanied his article is a photograph of a claret jug with a similar handle and another of a centrepiece with a repousse scene featuring a horse and rider in pursuit of a wild boar.

Although this jug is unmarked, the Kutch silverwork is of the highest quality; the composition is rhythmic and well balanced, with the background ornamentation showing subtle changes and variation whilst maintaining even surface coverage.  The vignettes are carefully distributed over the surface and no matter which angle the jug is viewed from, you are always presented with a surfeit of visual interest.  The execution is crisp and the figures have been well drawn and nestle within the foliage. 

To the top and bottom of the jug a composite border of large beads, acanthus leaves and small beads, frames the central area. Eight scenes of roughly similar size have been placed in each of the quadrants either side of the handle, with the ninth and largest scene placed directly underneath the spout, occupying the most prominent position and facing the person being served. 

The figural scenes are typical of fine quality Kutch work. The animals are portrayed skilfully and naturalistically and are all engaged in action. Each scene catches a single moment in the midst of a struggle. A variety of animals are featured, wild and domesticated, and four of the scenes portray men.  Most of the animals assume only one role in the dramas, those of predator, prey, servant of man or equal, but the elephant is shown in three guises; as a servant of man, as an equal battling a peer for supremacy and as prey, whilst man  is depicted in four different roles; as prey, protector, master and hunter, probably illustrating that he is the most complex of all the animals.

The scenes show: a turbaned man pinned to the ground by an attacking lion, he is trying to push the lion’s jaws away; two bulls locking horns; an elephant ridden by a mahout being attacked by a tiger with the mahout trying to fend the tiger off with his goad; two hunting dogs attacking a stag; a lion has caught up with a gazelle and is trying to bring it down; a prone man is being savaged by a tiger; two elephants are tussling for supremacy; two dogs are attacking a wild boar. In the largest and pincipal scene, a turbaned man is sitting upon a fine horse, the man has just launched his spear at the boar he is chasing.

The handle of the jug is formed by a magnificent crocodile.  The crocodile’s front feet are braced against the side of the jug by the upper rim and its back legs are braced against the middle of the jug whilst its tail runs down the side of the jug towards the base.  The crocodile’s back is steeply arched, forming the handle, whilst its head, stretched out and back, rises up above the rim. 

The lid of the jug has been ornamented with scrolling floral and foliate designs contained within a rope border and encircled by a plain outer border.  The finial is placed centrally on the lid and takes the form of a large beetle with outstretched antennae; the scutellum is ribbed, dividing the plain or wings.

The spout is unusually short in length and projects upwards from just under the top of the rim, reminiscent of a gargoyle.  The upper side of the spout is surmounted with a dragon’s head and under its nostrils the spout is formed from his open mouth whilst his back teeth are visible at either side of the opening, heightening the comparison with a gargoyle.  

To the underside of the spout, the surface of the silver nearest the opening is unadorned whilst lower down,  the ornamentation of the body continues along it, with a symmetrical arrangement of scrolling floral and foliate work.

A rare, unusual and extremely decorative jug of huge size and great presence which demonstrates all the finest qualities and features associated with Kutch silver manufacture during its heyday in the late nineteenth century.

 

Provenance:           UK Art Market

Size:                             Height: 30.5 cms, width: 15.5 cms

Weight:                     1586 grammes

References:

Journal of Indian Art – Volume 5, page 158, The Silver Workers of Cutch (Western India); plate 94, page 166; plate 96, page 167     

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