Arts of India

10/05/2019     News Stories & Press Release, Islamic & Indian Art

A portrait of a Mughal Noble, North IndiaAn engraved deep copper bowl, DeccanA Deccani zoomorphic calligraphic lion, India


LONDON: This model of a soldier riding a camel was originally part of a remarkable set of late 18th century bronze toy soldiers now scattered across some of the world’s leading museums. The piece (lot 151), which has been in a private UK collection since the 1990s, is one of the stand out entries in Arts of India, an auction at Roseberys London containing an eclectic mix of artefacts originating from the South Asian country.
The so-called ‘Vizagapatam Toy Soldiers’ – named after the city on India’s eastern coast where they were believed to have been manufactured – are found in collections at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Sandringham and Madras Museums in India.
The toy soldiers were individually made using the cire perdue (lost wax) process, which allowed for a greater variety of detail and expression. The set is most unusual in Indian sculpture for its humorous caricatures of the military, with soldiers given oversized heads and weapons to exaggerate their pomposity and swagger. 
Who the set was made for, and by whom, has inspired debate among scholars. Perhaps most intriguing is the suggestion that the toy soldiers represent the troops of the Sultanate of Mysore and were made for the children of Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), the so-called ‘Tiger of Mysore’ who ruled in South India from 1782 to 1799. Another theory from the Madras Museum was the set was commissioned by the Raja Timma Jagapathi IV of Peddapuram from a mysterious artist named Adimurti and cast by two brothers called Virachandracharlu and Viracharlu. Others have suggested the toy soldiers may have been modelled by an English or French officer in Vizagapatam, which had an established English factory since 1682 and was briefly captured by the French in 1758.

Indian Pictures

The sale includes a fine example from the rich painting tradition of Pahari, the umbrella term referring to art made mostly in miniature form by local court painters from the various Himalayan kingdoms in the north of India. Although influenced by Mughal art, the Pahari tradition is rooted in the Indian landscape with the favourite themes taken from Hinduism. The c.1800 watercolour at Roseberys, estimated at £3000-4000, was created in the state of Mandi, which had its own distinctive style, and depicts the ancient Indian sage Visvamitra bringing Rama and Laksmana to the bank of the Sarayu river (lot 129).

Another highlight is a 17th century zoomorphic lion formed with ink and gold calligraphy. The words are from the ‘Nadi Ali’, an Arabic poem written in homage to Imam Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam. The piece originates from Deccani in South India and is estimated at £10,000-12,000 (lot 101).

An early 19th century Ragamala painting of a lady arranging her hair with provenance to Sven Gahlin - the collector known for his connoisseurship who started collecting in the 1960s – is estimated at £600-800. The picture, set within an oval and painted with opaque pigments on paper heightened with gilt, comes from Kangra in Northern India and dates c.1820 (lot 134).  

Visvamitra brings Rama and Laksmana to the bank of the Sarayu riverA lady arranging her hair, a series from a Ragamala paintingA ruby-set 'makara head' gold bracelet (Toda), South India, 19th CenturyA brass Vizagapatam toy soldier, India, circa 1790

Mughal Art

Among the more intriguing and delicate objects is a 19th century Mughal panel with red and silver beetle wings sewn around a border of thick gold textured thread. Fabrics lavishly decorated with the iridescent wing-cases of Buprestidae beetles - better known as ‘jewel beetles’ - were particularly fashionable in the 19th century. The technique involved piercing the wing cases with holes and clipping them into shape before sewing them directly onto the fabric ground. Designs were built up using hundreds of cases, frequently in combination with gold-wrapped thread and embellishments. The shimmering emerald colour is not a pigmentation but a result of the microscopic structure of the wing cases themselves, which naturally reflects green-blue light. This impressive piece carries an estimate of £3000-5000 (lot 32).

Other Mughal highlights include an 18th century printed cotton panel for a tent or ‘Qanat’, decorated with large red and white flower heads in a scrolling green vine with butterflies. Such pieces brought together the extraordinary skill of the Indian textile worker with the almost nomadic lifestyle of their patrons. The Qanat hanging was very important for open air encampments, and they were composed of a repeating row of similar or identical panels. These screens were placed to create the enclosure within which the tents were erected. Designs were inspired by Safavid prototypes which entered the Mughal decorative repertoire. Elsewhere is a fine 18th century portrait in opaque pigments heightened with gold on paper of a Mughal noble wearing a pink turban with a pearl string. Originating from Northern India, it has come from a private Swiss collection formed between the 1970s-90s. It is estimated at £600-800 (lot 65).

Further Indian highlights


A stunning ruby-set 'makara head' gold bracelet or ‘toda’ dating to the 19th century is estimated at £1000-1500 from a UK private collection (lot 140). Such bangles were worn by kings and princes in South India in the 19th century and were bestowed on others by them as a mark of favour. This piece, fabricated from gold sheet with repoussé and chased decoration, features the heads of two mythical Hindu sea creatures known as makara set with ruby eyes and holding between their open mouths a spherical element depicting the face of a kirtimukha. A comparable example exists in the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

A 17th century engraved copper bowl from Deccan with a central roundel containing a wheel of radiating palmette motifs and surrounded by five fish is estimated at £800-1200 (lot 92). Interestingly, the piece is inscribed with the name of its former 17th century owner ‘Haji Reza’ and comes to sale from the collection of the Persian scholar Alexander ‘Sandy’ Morton (1942-2011).

You can view the full catalogue here. 

Please find the details of the auction below.

Art of India
Wednesday 12 June, starting at 10.30 am

Friday 7 June 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 9 June 10 am – 2 pm 
Monday 10 June 9.30 am – 5.30 pm
Tuesday 11 June 9.30 am – 5.30 pm

Head of department Alice Bailey




For further information please contact Peigi Mackillop +44 (0) 20 8761 2522



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