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Sunday, Sep 15, 2019

Preserving art: UK seeks to retain unique Indian item

A rare 17th century tray produced in Bidar in south India that exemplified Indian superiority in metallurgy at the time – long before England had the expertise – has been blocked from export by the Theresa May government, seeking to retain and preserve it in the United Kingdom.

world Updated: Feb 08, 2019 23:12 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
The artwork has been assessed by experts to be at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found and retained within the UK.
The artwork has been assessed by experts to be at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found and retained within the UK.(Photo: Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, UK)
         

A rare 17th century tray produced in Bidar in south India that exemplified Indian superiority in metallurgy at the time – long before England had the expertise – has been blocked from export by the Theresa May government, seeking to retain and preserve it in the United Kingdom.

Described by the department of digital, media, culture & sport as “mysterious and unique”, the artwork has been assessed by experts to be at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found and retained within the UK.

Officials said a decision on the export licence application for the item will be deferred until April 17, which may be extended until July 17 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £75,000, plus VAT.

Experts believe the tray highlights Indian superiority in metallurgical knowledge, or scientific study of metals, at the time it was made.

“Appreciation of the zinc alloy technique of ‘bidri’ may be indirectly linked to sharing with England how to produce metallic zinc, or carry out zinc smelting, on an industrial scale. This would ultimately lead to a transformation in English industrial production around a century later”, officials said.

The export of ‘Tear Shaped Bidri Tray’, which is believed to have been made in the first half of the 17th century by an unknown craftsman, has been blocked by Michael Ellis, minister for arts, heritage and tourism, to provide an opportunity to keep it in the country.

Credit: Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, UK
Credit: Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, UK

The tray, deemed to be of a rare size and shape and unparalleled finesse, is in a metalworking technique known as ‘Bidri’, the name deriving from the capital city of the Bahmani sultanate of the Deccan which was one of the major Muslim kingdoms of medieval India.

It is also believed to be one of only two ‘Bidri’ objects to have its entire outer surface covered in silver inlay, decorated through a complex intertwining of scrolling lines bearing leaves and stylised flowers.

Officials said 17th century Bidriware is rare in any collection in the world, with the vast majority of pieces in UK public and private collections dating from the 19th century. Even the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, which has the finest collection of Bidriware in the world, does not own a tray of this type.

Ellis said: “The Tear Shaped Bidri Tray highlights the style, detail and innovation of metalware produced on the subcontinent during this influential period in world history. When considering its unique nature, it is right that we do what we can to preserve this valuable item for the nation”.

Most of the tray’s ownership history is unknown. It is recorded as having been acquired by the London-based antique dealer Anthony “Tobi” Jack in London by at least 1974, and was owned by the dealer Bashir Mohamed from 1974 to 2017.

The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Arts Council.

It made the recommendation on the grounds that the item is of outstanding aesthetic importance and significance for the study of Indian and Deccan decorative arts.

Chairman of the committee Hayden Phillips said: “This 17th century Indian tray is exquisite; both in the beauty of its appearance, in the shape of a tear, and in the manner of its creation. It fully reflects the sophistication of Deccan design in the region’s monuments and interiors”.

“We were unanimous in our view that the tray was of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance to the study of Bidri ware”.

First Published: Feb 08, 2019 23:11 IST