Antique Indian Silver Container,
Circular Lidded,
Oomersi Mawji, Bhuj, Kutch – Circa 1890

 

This container has been decorated in repousse and chased techniques with signature Kutch (Cutch) scrolling foliate designs.  The lid has a bead border to the edge and vacant circular cartouche to the centre.  Around the side of the container is a scrolling floral and foliate panel with stylised leaf borders to top and bottom.  The underside of the base is marked O.M BHUJ.

The repousse was worked from the outside in with flowers, foliage and stems highly raised and delicately and sharply defined. Good work can be distinguished by the sharp and clear cuts, the well modelled forms, the grace of the curves and the careful spacing.  The scrolling pattern is not repeated exactly but worked freehand, individually fashioned by the silversmith with each sprig varying slightly in its form.  

Bhuj, the capital of Kutch was not an obvious centre for silversmiths but it was an important trading centre.  Bhuj was situated on a promontory, with the sea to the south and west.  To the north and east was a low lying salt desert.  The eastern desert was subject to inundation from the sea and the northern desert was accessible to camel caravans travelling to and from Sindh, although frequently under water during the rainy season, when it became impassable.  At certain times of the year, Bhuj’s land routes were entirely cut off, leaving it almost an island.

The reason Bhuj became a great centre of the silver trade was almost certainly due to its sea trade. Baden Powell quotes Captain MacMurdo, who said that in the early 1800s, eight hundred Kutch boats were involved in the sea trade with Bombay, East Africa and the west of India.  Later in the nineteenth century, it is recorded that bullion was imported from Mecca and silver dollars from East Africa.  The port also offered a shipping route to Bombay and these two centres were closely connected by this sea trade. Good silversmiths from Bhuj employed agents in Bombay to chase the European trade on their behalf.

In the late nineteenth century, only ten families in Bhuj were occupied in solely producing repousse silver.  Oomersi Mawji came from the Mochi or cobbler class and belonged to a clan who had traditionally worked at decorating armour plate but now worked exclusively in silver. Raj Desalji II (1819 – 1860) promoted Kutch silverwork at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 and gave Kutch silver as presents on ceremonial and diplomatic occasions.  In the last decades of the nineteenth century, Kutch silver became known for its quality workmanship and high purity and was very popular in Britain, with Oomersi Mawji being the best known and most celebrated maker.

For more information about Oomersi Mawji, please also refer to the following descriptions:-

http://www.josephcohenantiques.com/collections/kutch-silver/products/post_typeproductp3218/ 

http://www.josephcohenantiques.com/collections/kutch-silver/products/an-antique-indian-silver-footed-tray-large-size-oomersi-mawji-bhuj-india-1890/

 

Provenance:         UK art market

Size:                          Height:  8 cms, Width: 8 cms  

Weight:                   131 grammes

References:

 W Griggs, Journal of Indian Art, Volume 5, page 158, The Silver Workers of Cutch, H Baden-Powell, Oxford 1893, based on a paper by Mr B A Gupta

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