India, Deccan, Bidar
Alloy inlaid with brass; H. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm), D. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm)
Louis E. and Theresa S. Seley Fund for Islamic Art and Rogers Fund, 1984 (1984.221)
When tobacco reached the Mughal court in 1604, doctors warned that it was detrimental to the health. Nevertheless, smoking came in vogue, especially when inhaled through a purifying and cooling water pipe, or huqqa. Smoking became so popular during the seventeenth century in India, Turkey, and Iran that artist-craftsmen of great talent devised remarkable objects to augment its ceremonial pleasures: mouthpieces of jade, amber, or precious metal; splendidly adorned flexible tubes; opulent finials for the chillum in which the tobacco burned; and, above all, bases to contain water. In India, many of these were manufactured at Bidar, in the Deccan, where a special technique of inlaying brass, silver, or gold into an alloy of zinc, tin, and copper had been developed by the late sixteenth century. Rooted in the vigorous traditions of Islamic metalwork, so-called bidri work adapted motifs from many sourcestextiles, jewelry, and architectural ornamentin order to satisfy the varying and changing tastes of patrons in many parts of India. By the mid-seventeenth century, when the earliest datable examples were made, Mughal influence predominated. Nevertheless, the bold and lively flower so sensitively repeated around this globular huqqa base also brings to mind the zestfulness of Ottoman ornament and recalls such precursors as the stylized flowers brought to India from China via Central Asia and Iran.