Auction 85 Antiques & Works of Art


Wine cup


55.000 - 80.000

Session 1

12 March 2019


Carved nephrite jade
Mughal India, possibly Agra, c. 1700
(hairline, small restorations)

2,9 × 12,5 × 7,7 cm



Additional Information

A finely carved, wine cup in greyish-white nephrite jade, translucent and slightly mottled, with a drop-shaped cup with marked lobes (gadroons) and a goat's head handle. The handle probably depicts the famous Kashmir goat (Capra hircus laniger), known as Changthang, which inhabits the mountains to the north in the Indian subcontinent, in present-day Ladakh (Kashmir) and Baltistan, from which the much-appreciated cashmere wool is produced (from the dense and soft undercoat which protects against hoarfrost).
The lobed, scalloped-shape is reminiscent of sea shells, such as scallops, and also to pumpkins, natural shapes reproduced in jade in the courtly Mughal workshops in the seventeenth century. It follows a style strongly influenced by the natural world which has long been characterized by Robert Skelton (Skelton 1972), a style which owes its origin to the access and subsequent influence of European artworks (precious objects and engravings), alongside a growing prominence of Iranian-style painting, which characterizs Mughal courtly arts in the early seventeenth century, notably during the reigns of emperors Jahangir (1605-1627) and Shah Jahan (1628-1658) - see Markel 1989; Markel 1999; Stronge 2011-2112.
This style is characterized by a perfect synthesis between natural elements, such as Chinese-inspired pumpkins, which sets this new Hindustani production apart from a previous Persian-style production Timurid in character, a production based on Central Asian metal prototypes, the homeland of the Mughal dynasty (see Melikian-Chirvani 1999).
The present drinking cup, for wine or used to take opium dissolved in wine mixed with spices (known as kawa) - a practice highly favoured not only by the Mughal emperors but also by their Timurid ancestors (see Khare 2005) -, taking into account its shape and iconography and not any superior quality of its carving, is similar to the famous cup, carved in pure white nephrite jade, dated by inscription to the thirty-first year (1657) of the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan, on which a mountain goat is depicted - Victoria and Albert Museum, London, inv. IS.12-1962 (Skelton 1966; Skelton 2010, pp. 286-287). This Shah Jahan's precious cup, the greatest example of the lapidary arts at the Mughal imperial workshops of the mid-seventeenth century, has also a very delicate foot, finally carved in the shape of an open flower (carved all-around) and European-inspired acanthus leaves.
While the present cup fails to reach this very high level of artistic accomplishment, which from the examples of Mughal lapidary art known to us remains unsurpassed, this drinking cup shows a remarkable carving quality, namely in the thinness of the cup wall and the delicate rim (with some restorations given its fragility), which allows us to identify it as product of a Mughal royal workshop probably from the last years of the seventeenth century, at the end of the reign of emperor Alamgir, better known as Aurangzeb ( 1658-1707).
One of the most curious aspects of this piece is its provenance, since it belonged to the collection of Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), a famous Italian fashion designer and rival in Paris of Coco Chanel, two of the most important fashion figures of the period, between the World Wars (see White 1995). The presence of a piece of this origin and quality in Elsa's collection may be due to his father, Celestino Schiaparelli (1841-1919), who, while a specialist in the Islamic and Medieval Worlds, an eminent Arabist and professor of Arab language and literature at the Istituto Superiore di Studi di Firenze and at the Università di Roma, and librarian of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (see Nallini 1919-1920), would have had easy access to a Mughal object, in a period where the art of this period was not known and appreciated as it is today.


Previously in the collection of Elsa Schiaparelli.

Closed Auction