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A RARE MUGHAL GEM-SET GOLD SPOON, INDIA, 17TH-18TH CENTURY. Photo courtesy Sotheby's

the shallow bowl delicately inlaid on the reverse with a lotus rosette comprised of radiating foil-backed diamond petals and rubies, the faceted tapering shaft inlaid with emeralds and bands of ruby quatrefoils within an engraved and chiselled gold framework, gold lotus bud terminal; 14.5cm. Lot Sold: 409,250 GBP

NOTE: This spoon is comparable to the magnificent early-seventeenth-century spoon in the Victoria and Albert Museum (VAM 173-1910). The form of the V&A spoon, like our example, is derived from a European prototype and both aredecorated, except for the inside of the bowl, with an interlace of rubies, emeralds and diamonds. The exact function of these spoons is unknown but Annemarie Schimmel has suggested that they might have been used to distribute sweets over which the Fatiha had been recited (Welch 1985, p.200, no.128).
During the seventeenth century precious objects were often set with gemstones in the manner seen here, as recorded by the traveller Jean de Thevenot who describes gold and gem inlaying at Agra (see India in the Seventeenth Century, Vol II, 'The Voyages of Thevenot and Careri', ed. J.P. Guha, New Delhi 1979) .The kundan technique employed for the settings is unique to India. Using hyper-purified gold (kundan), the inlayer (zar-nishan) refines the soft metal into strips of malleable foil which at room temperature have a 'tacky' or adhesive quality. Once cut and folded, the craftsman can apply the ductile gold as he chooses without any need for solder or glue. In spite of the practical advantages of this technique, it was only ever used in the Subcontinent, though widely imitated elsewhere (Keene 2001, pp.18 and 30).
The distinctive radiating lotus design on the back of the spoon relates closely to an architectural decorative device favoured during the reign of the emperor Shah Jahan. Interlocking panels radiating from a central rosette can be seen on the painted plaster ceiling of the Badshahi mosque in Lahore (1674 AD). A pair of late-seventeenthcentury marble lotus-form stepping-stones from the collection of Howard Hodgkin (illustrated in R. Skelton (ed.), The Indian Heritage, London, 1982, no.12), display the same radiating petal design. The radiating lotus is an ancient symbol whose origins lie in the lotus roundels of early Buddhist monuments, such as the mahastupa at Amaravati, 2nd century AD.

Sotheby's. Arts of The Islamic World. London | 06 Apr 2011 - www.sothebys.com