Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence

Christie's New York

June 19, 2019

Sale 17464

Enamelled and gem set model of a parrot

Lot 140, "An Enamelled and Gem Set Model of a Parrot;" Hyderabad, Deccan, Circa 1775-1825

Photographs by Carter B. Horsley

By Michele Leight

I had a visceral reaction to Lot 140,"An Enamelled and Gem Set Model of a Parrot," at Christies press preview of "Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence" in New York (on June 19th 2019). It took me back to my childhood garden in West Bengal at sunset, when it seemed as if every parrot in the state was screeching its way home to a nest, flashes of fluorescent green against a pink and orange sky. Created between 1775-1825, this magnificent Mughal work of art studded with rubies, a teardrop emerald dangling from its beak, captured the essence of the bird, the extraordinary skill of the artist/artisan that created it - with mind-blowing virtuosity -  and the sophistication of the rulers that commissioned such excellence.  This dazzling parrot is from the collection of the legendary Nizams of Hyderabad, world famous for their jewels, and designed to decorate the area around the throne. Similar companions kept this little birdy company. Here, the humble parrot is elevated to the mythical status of a falcon, prized in many cultures thoughout history. As with so many glorious works of art from the past in Mughal India and other countries, I wish we could have known the name of its creator.

It seems buyers shared my enthusiasm for this exquisite creature. Lot 140 has an estimate $350,000-$500,000.
It sold for $1,035,000.

Robinson, Kadakia, Porter and McAndrew
The press preview for "Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence, at Christie's, with (left to right): William Robinson, International Head of Islamic and Indian Art; Rahul Kadakia, International Head of Jewelry; Mark Porter, Chairman, Christie's, Americas; Erin McAndrew, VP , Head of Corporate Communications, Christie's Americas

The sale, Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence, offering 388 jewels and objects from the Al Thani Collection, achieved an outstanding $109,271,875, the highest total for any auction of Indian Art and Mughal objects, and the second highest total for a single owner jewelry sale worldwide.

The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: The Legendary Jewels, Evening Sale, holds the current record at $115.9 million.

Belle Epoque Devant-de-Corsage\

Lot 277, "A Belle Epoque Devant-De-Corsage," Cartier, 1912

And now we come to one of the blockbuster stars of the show, one of several fabulous signed Cartier pieces, including Lot 277, "A Belle Epoque Devant-De-Corsage (Paris, 1912), illustrated above, which sold for $10,603,000 (estimate $10,000,000-15,000,000) to a private collector in the auction room. It was the top lot of the sale, and originally in the collection of Solomon Barnato Joel (1865-1931). It was exhibited at The Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2015); The Grand Palais, Paris (2017); The Doges Palace, Venice (2017); and the de Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco (2018).

Detail of Procession of the Emperor Akbas Shah II

Lot 146, " The Procession of the Emperor Akbar Shah II Through Delhi," Delhi, India, Circa 1825

"We were the pea-hen to their peacock" wrote the wife in of a British dignitary in her diary after attending a "durbar" upon her arrival in India. Her Victorian silk gown, extravagant by British standards,  and pearl necklace and earrings were no match for the sumptuous brocades and brilliant gems of the Maharaja, his entourage and courtiers - not to mention the bejeweled elephant he rode, which made the greatest impression of all! Lot 146, a wonderful Mughal painting of a royal procession, "The Procession of the Emperor Akbar Shah II Through Delhi," captures the pomp and grandeur of the Emperor atop his pachiderm, and has an estimate of $40,000-60,000. It sold for$131,250.

Illustrated below is a contemporary interpretation of the noble elephant by JAR, Lot 148, "A Diamond, Cacholong, Sapphire and Titanium Brooch," created in 2013. As winsome a gem as is possible to find anywhere today. It has an estimate of $100,000-$150,000. It sold for $550,000, well past its high estimate.

Brooch with elephant

Lot 148, "A Diamond, Cacholong, Sapphire and Titanium Brooch," JAR, 2013


Every one loves a good love story, and Rahul Kadakia, Christie's International Head of Jewelry shared a great one - of course in connection to two exquisite pieces offered in this sale, both illustrated below.

Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry

Rahul Kadakia, Christie's International Head of Jewelry, spoke about the Maharaja of Kaphurtala falling in love with the dancer Anita Delgado, who became his fifth wife

In 1905, in search of spectacular piece of jewelry to wear to the wedding of King Alfonso XII and Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg in Madrid, the sophisticated and cultured Jagjit Singh (1872-1949), Maharaja of Kapurthala, headed for the prestigious jewelry houses of Place Vendome in Paris, specifically the Mellerio boutique that dated back to 1613, where he found the perfect gem. Lot 131, " An Antique Diamond and Enamel Peacock Aigrette:"

Pheasant pin

Lot 131, pheasant pin

"...The mythical animal venerated by numerous civilizations and especially by India had been a favourite of Mellerio ever since Empress Eugenie had commissioned a peacock feather brooch in 1868. Emblematic of their artistic repertoire, the bird motif justified the combination of blue and green, which was unconventional in the jewelry of the day. The aigrette purchased by the Maharaja presented the perfect combination of Indian influence with a Western vision. The Maharaja probably wore the aigrette on his turban at the royal wedding at the end of May, 1906, where, during the same visit, he incidentally met a young Spanish flamenco dancer, Anita Delgado. She would become his fifh wife less than two years later. The peacock aigrette, linked to their first encounter, was later seen worn by Anita Delgado, known as the Maharani Prem Kaur Sahiba after their marriage..." (Christie's catalogue for this sale).

"Prem Kaur Sahiba" means "love of a prince..."

Lot 131 has an estimate of $600,000-%700,000. It sold for $735,000.

Lot 132, "A Belle Eqoque Emeral and Diamond Brooch," has an amusing Anita Delgado connection, told by Mr. Kadakia, and expanded in Christie's catalogue for this sale:
Belle Epoque emerald brooch

Lot 132, "A Belle Epoque Emerald and Diamond Brooch," 1910

"As Jagajit Singh of Kapurthala was among one of the first Indian princes to patronize European jewelers, often supplying them with precious stones from his own treasure to be set in the latest western style, the young Anita also developed a passion for jewelry. A jewel that was of particular imporance to the Maharaja was a Belle Epoque emerald and diamond brooch. The brooch, Lot 132, was designed to highlight an extraordinary crescent-shaped emerald. This magnificent stone originally adorned the Maharaja's most prized elephant, until Anita admired it and it was given to her on her nineteenth birthday as an award for learning Urdu. Anita often wore the brooch as a forehead ornament at official events and when sitting for formal portraits..." (Christie's catalogue for this sale)

"Over time, the romantic story of her marriage, her candid charm and her great beauty won Anita international fame and she was often photographed and featured in social columns and magazine covers....Anita Delgado was also a strong philanthropic character, who played a particularly important role in caring for the many Punjabi troops who fought on European fields in World War I. Her marriage to the Maharaja ended after eighteen years in 1825, and with a generous financial settlement she returned to Europe. Her legendary jewels were passed on to her only son, Ajit Singh (1908-1982)." (Christie's catalogue)

Not only a great love story, but one with a civilized and loving ending.

Lot 132 has an estimate of $200,000-$400,000. It sold for $471,000.

Hilt of State Sword

Lot  245, "The Hilt of the State Sword of Maharaja Jagajit Singh of Kapurthala (1872-1949), North India, circa 1900

Illustrated above is Lot 245, "The Hilt of The State Sword of Maharaja Jagajit Singh of Kapurthala, 1872-1949), North India, circa 1900," a gorgeous object that is associated more with duty than pleasure. Dagger and swords abound in this sale, but this one is especially winsome. Lot 245 has an estimate of $100,000-$150,000. It sold for $ 150,000.

Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace

Lot 264, "The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace," an Antique Diamond Emerald and Enamel Necklace, mid to late 19th century, By Repute, Nizams of Hyderabad

The world-famous Koh I Noor Diamond that sits at the center of the Queen Mother's crown at the Tower of London - with which Queen Elizabeth was crowned - is the most legendary of the diamonds known as "Golkonda," named for the mines that were once in the lands ruled by the equally legendary Nizams of Hyderabad, whose name appears frequently on gorgeous gems at this auction.

Lot 264, "The Nizam's of Hyderabad Necklace, an Antique Diamond, Emerald and Enamel Necklace," illustrated above, was created in mid to late 19th century. The stunning diamonds are from the Golkonda mines that were situated in the the Nizams of Hyderabad sultanate:

"Golconda, a 14th-century Indian sultanate about six miles west of present-day Hyderabad, was known for its elaborate fort and its diamond mines. During the Renaissance, Golkonda came to be synonymous with great wealth, and the name is still spoken with reverence by deep-pocketed diamond traders and collectors, the kind of purists who will buy only natural pearls, Iranian turquoise, Colombian emeralds, and natural Burmese spinel. The Golkonda designation at an auction suggests that a stone's provenance can be traced all the way back to those historic mines, which the head of Christie's jewelry department, Rahul Kadakia, calls 'the beginning of diamonds.' For 2,000 years the mines at Golkonda were the only source of diamonds on earth (South Africa's deposits were not discovered until the late 19th century), but exclusivity took its toll. By 1725 the insatible appetites of Indian maharajas and European royals had exhausted the supply. Still, the ancient luster remains." (from "The Search for Golkonda," Town and Country Magazine, December 12, 2012)

Lot 264 has an estimate of $1,500,000-$2,500,000. It sold for $1,935,000.

Nizam's of Hyderabad Sarpech

Lot 311, "The Nizam's of Hyderabad Sarpech," An Antique Diamond, Spinel, Pearl and Enamel Sarpech, Lower Left Spinel Dated 1607-8 and 1633-34

Lot 311, "The Nizam's of Hyderabad Sarpech," illustrated above, is about as gorgeous as it gets for this particular turban ornament. Christie's catalogue for this sale offers valuable insights on who could wear such pieces:

"Sarpech is Hindi for 'head feather' but is generally known as a turban ornament. It was worn almost exclusively by the emperor, Indian princes and their immediate family. Considered the ultimate symbol of royalty, and sometimes used as a reward for exceptional service to the emperor, it evolved from the tradition of pinning a heron's feather (kalgi) to the front of a turban. Even during the reign of Jahangir (1569-1627) a sarpech can be seen in most portraits when they were painted in miniature. During the reign of Shah Jehan (1592-1666), sarpechs became much more elaborate and began to be jewel encrusted. There are many references in the Shah Nama of expensive jighas being presented to noblemen and courtiers in recognition of deeds undertaken in the name of the emperor."

Lot 311 has an estimate of $1,000,000-$2,000,000.
It sold for $1,155,000.

The ceremonial sword of The Nizam of Hyderabad, Lot 263,  illustrated above, was created between 1880-1900, and is an instrument of war, and state, and above all an extraordinary work of art. Lot 263, "A Ceremonial Sword of The Nizam of Hyderabad," has an estimate of $1,000,000-$1,500,000. It sold for $1,935,000. It is good to see that people do recognize a work of art when they see one.

Diamond Jigha

Lot 149, "A Belle Epoque Diamond Jigha," 1907, and remodeled circa 1935, Property of a Royal House, Christie's Geneva

It is a pity that Lot 149, A Belle Epoque Diamond Jigha," was not placed on a turban worn by a real human being during the preview of the sale. A magnificent photograph in Christie's catalogue shows the Maharaja Ranjitsinhi Vishaki, Jam Sahib of Nawanagar in full ceremonial regalia wearing a near identical version of Lot 149. The turban ornament is "set with old baguette and pear-shaped diamonds, white gold, fitted with plume holder on the reverse, lower portion detachable and may be work as a brooch, 5 1/2 inches, 1907, and remodeled in 1935." (Christie's catalogue).  Never did men in jewelry look as stunning as these maharajas. Their people thought of them as gods, so it was their obligation to shimmer and shine like a deity. And shine they did.

Lot 149 has an estimate of $1,200,000-$2,200,000. It sold for $1,815,000.

Antique sarpech

Lot 224, "An Antique Emerald, Diamond and Pearl Sarpech, Later Adapted by Cartier, circa 1890 and in 2012

Lot 224, "An Antique Emerald, Diamond and Pearl Sarpech, Later Adapted by Cartier," is another turban ornament, this time "set with a cushion mixed-cut emerald, oval-shaped old-cut diamond, rose and old-cut diamonds, pearl drop, silver-topped gold, fitted with plume holder, top element is detachable, lower section may be worn as a bazuband (armband, 4 5/8 inches, circa 1890, with later added brooch fitting by Cartier, Paris, 2012. The emerald is from Columbia, reknowned for this beautiful precious stone.

Lot 224 has an estimate of $700,000-$1,000,000. It sold for $915,000.

Majaraja win Eastern dress

Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore in Eastern dress
, with two enormous diamonds at his neck

The two portraits illustrated here were a perfect foil for the gems on display at the show, giving context to their exquisiteness. The portrait below, of Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore wearing western dress was painted when the prince was 20 years old, just before he was invested with full regal powers. The portrait above illustrates the cover of a wonderful, lavishly illustrated book, "Made For Maharajas: A Design Diary of Princely India," by Amir Jaffer. Note the two huge diamonds, unadorned because they alone are so magnificent. The maharajas and their wives commissioned some of the most exclusive wearable, drivable and usable objects ever created - and their jewelry was literally the crowning glory of them all, as can be seen here. The synopsis of the book tells the story:

"The Indian princes of the British Raj lived lives of unparalleled opulence and luxury. Made for Maharajas returns the readers to that resplendent era, presenting a selection of one-of-a-kind objects crafted to order by the outstanding European luxury goods manufacturers, fashion houses and decorators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here are the custom-designed cars, jewelry, and extraordinary objects d'art commissioned by maharajas, nawabs, nizams and sultans from Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, Harry Winston and others, accompanied by anecdotes that illuminate this sumptuous way of life. Many of the illustrations in this book have never been previously reproduced, making this not only the first volume of its kind, but a remarkable keepsake that may never be duplicated in our lifetime."

Maharaha in western dress

Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore in western dress

The delightful dinner set for four, illustrated below, would be my take-home lot from this sale. I like to think it is possible that such finery was even taken on picnics, when princes and maharajas and their entourage dined al fresco after a rigorous boar hunt, or a strenuous ride. The imagination runs wild when staring at such objects in contemporary auction rooms.

dinner set

Lot 349, "A Set of Rock-Crystal and Gold Cutlery," Sri Lanka or Goa, India, 16th-17th century or later

Lot 349, "A Set of Rock-Crystal and Gold Cutlery," was created in the 16th-17th century or later, and has an estimate of $100,000-$150,000. It sold for $225,000.

Large emerald necklace

Lot 174, "An Antique Emerald, Diamond and Pearl Necklace," Mid to Late 19th century

Lot 174, "An Antique Emerald, Diamond and Pearl Necklace," created in the mid to late 19th century, also features prized Columbian emeralds, and has an estimate of $200,000-$300,000. It sold for $325,000.


Lot 330, "An Antique Diamond and Multi-Gem Sarpech," 19th century, Sirdar Charanjit Singh of Kapurthala

Lot 330, an antique diaong and multi-gem sarpech, is 19th Century and from Sidar Charanjit Singh of Kapurthala.  It has an estimate of $80,000-$120,000. It sold for $125,000.

Baroda Pearl Canopy

Lot 278, "The Baroda Pearl Canopy," Baroda, circa 1865-1870

Lot 278, "The Baroda Pearl Canopy," illustrated above, was originally commissioned by Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad of Baroda, and Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda (who reigned from 1856-70) in 1865. “The Pearl Canopy of Baroda” and the equally famous “Pearl Carpet of Baroda,” are the only two surviving pieces of an original ensemble of five. Thousands of tiny seed pearls adorn this magnificent treasure. Lot 278 has an estimate of  $800,000-$1,200,000. It sold for $2,235,000, double its high estimate.

I wrote at length about this exquisite work of art for The City Review when it was sold by Sotheby's in March, 2011.

Antique Sarpech

Lot 129, "An Antique Emerald and Diamond Necklace Sarpech," Early 20th Century, Restrung at a Later Date, By Repute Nizams of Hyderabad; Columbian emeralds

Lot 129 is an antique emerald and diamond necklace Sarpech from the early 20th Century.  It was restrung at a later date by Repute Nizams of Hyderabad.  It has estimate of $200,000-$400,000. 

Dagger amd Scabbard

Lot 318, "A Gem Set Gold-Mounted Dagger (Jaambiyya) and Scabbard, Yemen and India, Late 19th Century, Nizams of Hyderabad

The dagger illustrated above, Lot 318, "A Gem Set God-Mounted Dagger (Jaambiyya) and Scabbard," is straight out of The Thousand and One Nights and Alladin. It is the fantasy dagger of childhood day-dreams and make-believe. It is an unusual combination of Persian and Indian, a gorgeous fusion of styles. It is originally from the collection of the Nizams of Hyderabad and has an estimate of $150,000-$200,000. It sold for $300,000.

There is so much that has to be left out of a review like this, including the stunning Lot 272, "Patiala Ruby Choker" commissioned by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, one of Cartier's most important Indian clients of the 1920s and 1930s, who often traveled to Paris with trunks of diamonds and gemstones from his treasury for Cartier's workshops. Created in 1931, it was restored and restrung by Cartier in 2102. Lot 272 has an estimate of  $800,000-$1,200,000. It sold for $975,000.

Lot 22, "An Antique Diamond Riviere Necklace," late 19th century, from the Nizam's of Hyderabad, (also not illustrated), has an estimate of $1,200,000-$1,500,000. It sold for $2,415,000, well above its estimate. It is a gorgeous necklace that literally lets the diamonds shine, with little interference. The settings are minimal. It could be designed today.

The sale has many exquisite miniature paintings, including some of emperors and nobles at sport. Falconry and "hawking" for one, was always the sport of kings, and the Mughal emperors and their courtiers were legendary for their hunts on horseback with the most formidable of all birds of prey - the falcon - illustrated in numerous albums commissioned by their emperors throughout the Mughal period and reaching far back into history.

Hawking ring

Lot 254, "An Antique Ruby Hawking Ring," reputedly belonging to Tipu Sultan of Mysore, Mid-to Late 18th Century

The falcon is invoked in Lot 254, "An Antique Ruby and Gold Hawking Ring," that reputedly belonged to the famous warrior and monarch, Tipu Sultan of Mysore, - the Tiger of Mysore - created mid-to late 19th century. Many, like Tipu Sultan, were ferocious warriors that held their own with any in history. Tipu was a gigantic thorn in the side of the British East India Company, refusing to bow to their dictats, and eventually killed in battle by the joint forces of the Empire, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas, who has also had enough of him. Tipu waged war on many fronts, with the Marathas in particular, not just with the British. He is a controversial figure due to his repression of Christians and Hindus. His opinion of infidels comes through potently in a ferocious automaton - mechanical toy - called "Tipu's Tiger," still on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, that depicts his tiger devouring a European man! He was also a pioneer of rocket artillery, which he fired at his opponents in every battle - a particularly sore point with the British because of the casualties they caused. Lot 254 has an estimate of  $60,000-$80,000. It sold for $162,500, well above its high estimate.

Lot 258, "A Group of Princes Out Hawking," (Murshidabad, Privincial Mughal, North India), was created in the mid-eighteenth century. Christie's catalogue offers valuable insights:

"This beautiful  illustration of a group of royal princes out hawking finds close comparison with the large landscape painting from Murshidabad in the Swinton Collection, which depicts the Mughal Emperor Muhammed Shah (r. 1719-48) hunting cranes with his hawks, attributable to the artist Chitarman, dating circa 1725-30. Both paintings illustrate the hunting cavalcade in the foreground with the figures dressed in traditional green hunting attire. Covered wagons drawn by bullocks on the left, hawks attacking cranes mid-air on the right, and the background receding with distant views of hills and an imperial entourage marching through the elements common to both paitnings...Our painting can also be compared to a processional scene portraying Mir Jafar Ali Khan on a hunting expedition with his son Miran, signed by the artist Purannath knownas Huhar II, painted Patna dating circa 1760, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London."

Lot 257, ""Prince Mu'Azzam Bahadur Shah and a Courtier Holding a Falcon," offers a more intimate view of man and nature in all its magnificence. Created in Mughal India, in the first half of the 17th century, its provenance includes Colonel John Murray and Hagop Kevorkian. It is a real gem of a painting. Lot 257 has an estimate of $60,000-$80,000.It sold for $68,750.

As an artist, it is wonderful to see at least some of the names of these extraordinarly gifted Mughal artists attached to their beautiful work, as in the case of Chitaram. It is unclear, however,  if he - or they achieved great fame and fortune in their own right like their European counterparts, especially for portraits of royals, important battles and always sport.

Prince Salim Riding an Escaped Elephant

Lot 145, "Prince Salim Riding an Escaped Elephant," Mughal India, probably Allahabad, Circa 1600-1605

This review ends with a sixteenth century miniature painting from Mughal India of no ordinary elephant - and rider. It is puzzling why the prince depicted in "Prince Salim Riding an Escapted Elephant," would be indulging in such a dangerous activity, but perhaps he liked a challenge, and what better than a rebellious pachiderm?
It is quite remarkable that this image created in "opaque pigments and gold on paper, backed on cream card" - essentially a fragile watercolor - has survived the passage of time with little trauma. Christie's catalogue for this sale enlightens us about this winsome work of art:

"The elephant here seems to have escaped its tether, which drags benind it across the grassy hillside. The implied wild careening of the elephant serves to heighten the imagined bravery of the rider."

And there you have the rationale of the prince for mounting a ceature that had the power to crush him in an instant.

Lot 145 has an estimate of $40,000-$60,000. It sold for $37,500.

My only criticism of the preview of the show is that while it included two magnificent portraits of the Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of
Indore, there was neither a large photograph or painting of the magnificent mahararins that wore many of these delectable objects. For this I strongly recommend Amir Jaffer's "Made For Maharajas," which prominently features the wife of the same maharaja. She was not only a magnificent eye-full, she was extremely sophisticated, and appears to have been emancipated. She was not alone among maharanis in these traits by the turn of the century.
All these magnificent objects were offered from The Al Thani Collection vaults. Next year works of art from this extensive collection, which includes over 6000 objects, will be shown at a new museum space in Paris. In addition to new acquisitions, sale proceeds will support ongoing initiatives of the Al Thani Collection Foundation, which extend from exhibitions, publications and lectures to sponsorships of projects at museums around the world.

If this sale is a sampling of what the rest of the collection has to offer, we are in for a real treat.


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