Antique Indian Bidri Footed Salver,
Silver Inlay,
Deccan, India – late 17th/early 18th century

This exceptionally fine and early bidri salver has been inlaid with silver and ornamented using two different techniques; tarkashi (inlaying a single wire) and tebneshan (inlaying elements cut from sheets of precious metals) techniques. The inlay is precise and has been exceptionally well cut, the composition is very well designed and the execution is very skilled.

The salver stands on eight short inlaid legs with quatrefoil feet. The central medallion represents a lotus flower with three rows of petals emanating out from the central point and the flower is encircled by an inlaid wire border. To the other side of the wire border is an interesting frieze which appears to be composed of architectural elements. Beyond a wide black band empty of all adornment, the same frieze has been repeated in the reverse direction, just before the rim. This emptiness is purposeful, giving a sense of space to the composition and creating a corridor of peace with the illusion of the towers and spires of a city illuminated against the night sky. It provides a pleasing counterpoint to the rich embellishment of the rim. There are some similarities with architectural elements of Hyderabad’s Makkah (Mecca) Masjid which was completed in 1694, particularly, the shape of the decorative stonework surmounting the roofline.

The rim has a narrow foliate border running around the inner and outer edges.  The area between is ornamented with thirteen depictions of a flowering plant set within decoratively shaped arches or niches, separated by columns. To the exterior, the serrated edge is turned down or pendant. 

A 17th century Bidri Tray from Bidar in the Deccan, from a private collection, was exhibited in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent exhibition, "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," 20th April 2015 – 26th July 2015.  This has a serrated edge which is turned up at the edge (in our salver, this has been turned down) and has no feet, but the design shows a very similar composition of flowering plants set with in arches radiating out from a central medallion.

A 12-sided bidri salver, described as a thali or tray, within the collection of the National Museum, New Delhi stands on multiple short legs with the outer edge turned down and serrated. The thin borders of finely inlaid wire which surround the various fields are of similar composition and the ‘tooth shaped’ petals to the outer rows of the central medallion are of the same shape as those in our salver.  

The striking depictions of the flowering plant within the panels show a style which reached its height during the Mughal Empire.  As a result of mid-17th century contact between the Mughal and Deccan empires, the Mughal flower style was also adopted in the Deccan.

Maryam Ekhtiar et al explain - ‘The use of complete flowering plants as a decorative motif appears to have had its genesis in works on paper produced during the reign of Jahangir (r. 1605-27).  In 1620 the emperor requested that his artist, Mansur, paint the many types of flowers he observed in Kashmir.  The three surviving studies by Mansur show such strong affinities with European botanical studies that it is very likely that he and the other Mughal artists who later took up this theme were using them as a model.  Herbals known to have been presented by European visitors to the Mughal court are usually identified as the source of inspiration.’ In turn, European flower painting of this era had been influenced by Ottoman and Persian art, which influenced Italian art firstly and then permeated up through to northern Europe.’ The flowering plants portrayed on this tray are in the style of Mansur, naturalistically portrayed they also show movement, as if a light wind was gently blowing.

‘Sometime during the reign of Jahangir’s son, Shah Jahan (r. 1627-1658), the plant studies were transformed into decorative motifs and arranged in rows to cover textiles, carpets, luxury objects and architectural spaces.’ 

The Taj Mahal mausoleum in Agra, India, was commissioned by Shah Jahan. Construction of the mausoleum began in 1632, after Shah Jahan’s beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, had died during childbirth whilst giving birth to their fourteenth child.  The principal mausoleum was completed in 1643 with the gardens and ancillary structures completed around 10 years later.  It features finely carved bas relief marble panels featuring naturalistically depicted flowering plants.  It also contains decoratively arched niches, similar to the niche outline which has been used in this salver to frame the flowering plant motif. 

During the 17th and 18th centuries, fine bidri objects were coveted luxury goods, produced for court nobles and Indian Royalty. Several paintings from the period depict rulers and courtiers at the royal courts of Deccan and Mughal India with depictions of bidri hookahs, boxes and trays given a prominent position within the composition, signifying their very high status.

According to Indian oral history, the technique of bidri inlay originated in Iran and was brought to India in the 15th century by the Bahamani ruler Ala’uddin Bahamani. Bahamani brought craftsmen from Bijapur and established them in Bidar. The oldest examples of bidri which can be seen today only date from the 17th century. Bidri ware is made from an alloy which is predominantly zinc with small amounts of lead, copper, and tin added. The inlay is usually of silver, brass or a mix of both and, very rarely, gold. As seen with this salver, the lustrous intricately shaped silver contrasts beautifully with the matte black background.  Please follow the link to our blog which has more information on bidri wares


Provenance:        North American Art Market

Size:                         Diameter: 30 cms, height: 4 cms              


Navina Haidar and Marika Sardar, Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700:Opulence and Fantasy,The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2015

Edited by Maryam D. Ekhtiar, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Najat Haidar, Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, 2011

Mark Zebrowski, Bidri:  Metalware from the Islamic Courts of India, Art East, 1, 1982, pp. 27-ff

Susan Stronge, Bidri Ware: Inlaid Metalwork from India. Edition, Victoria & Albert Museum 1985

George Michell and Mark Zebrowski. Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates, Cambridge University Press, New York 1999

Dr Anjali Pandey, “Bidri Ware:  A Unique Metalcraft of India” International Journal of Research – Granthaalayah, Vol. 4, No. 3 (2016): 170-175

Exhibition: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20, 2015–July 26, 2015

The Collection of the National Museum, New Delhi, India

The Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Makkah (Mecca) Masjid, Hyderabad 

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