Bidri Ware - The technique of using precious metals as a decorative inlay in pieces of blackened base metal was probably developed in or around the city of Bidar, in the centre of India, in the 15th century, though no examples of Bidri ware, as it came to be called, are known from before the 17th century

 

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Bidri Ware from India


BIDRI WARE

 A painstaking form of very decorative inlaid metalwork, developed in central India before it was colonized, enjoyed a fashion in Europe in the late 19th century and is still appreciated today.

Indo-Persian Bidri Inlaid Lidded Genie Bottle

 The technique of using precious metals as a decorative inlay in pieces of blackened base metal was probably developed in or around the city of Bidar, in the centre of India, in the 15th century, though no examples of Bidri ware, as it came to be called, are known from before the 17th century.

 It took a lot of time and effort to make Bidri ware. The piece was first cast in an alloy that was mainly zinc, then smoothed. The design was drawn on, then chiselled out to an even depth.

 Silver sheet or wire (occasionally brass and gold) was inlaid in the chiselled design flush with the surface. As a final touch, the piece was coated with a cocktail of chemicals and Bidar mud. This gave the alloy a rich black colour from which the silver stood out in brilliant contrast.

 Early Bidri work was expensive, and at first available only to the rich. Pieces were for social and ceremonial use; most common were the bases of hookahs 'hubble-bubble' pipes or items for preparing and serving pan, parcels of nuts and spices wrapped in leaves that were eaten a the end of a meal as a digestive and stimulant.

 As time went on, other items were added to the repertoire; ewers, bottles with domed covers, candlesticks, rectangular boxes with hinged or separate lids, and so on.  They were often made to specific commission rather than for general sale.

 In the second half of the 19th century, production of Bidri ware was stepped up as it acquired admirers in the West. It was featured at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and taken up by lovers of the curious and exotic.

 As a result, more places in India started to produce the ware. The form of decoration most frequently used at this time was a poppy cartouche, which could be adapted to a wide variety of surfaces and shapes.

 Almost all Bidar work of the period uses it, though other centres had their own favourites - a floral, diamond patterned lattice in Purnea, for instance, and fish in Lucknow.

 With the increased production came a decline in quality, followed by a fall in demand. Though the manufacture of Bidri ware continues to this day, it is now only on a small scale, supported by government grants.

COLLECTOR'S NOTES

 Bidri ware came to Britain from two sources; some of it was imported by retailers such as Liberty's, who specialized in exotic decorative wares, and some was brought into the country by those who had lived or worked in colonial India.

 As a result, items of Bidri ware quite often turn up at country auction rooms and dealers. The vast majority of these were made in the 19th century; earlier pieces are real finds, and may fetch high prices.

OLD BIDRI WARE

 These valuable early pieces can be recognized by the frequent use made of brass in the decorative detail and by the naturalistic, flowing quality of the floral inlay.

 The majority of 18th-century Bidri pieces have well-spaced, bold motifs made from large pieces of silver, while late 19th-century ones tend to have an all-over decoration that uses many very small pieces of silver.

 Some 19th-century Bidri ware was made using inferior methods; in Lucknow, for instance, it became the practice to lay the silver directly on to the surface of the piece, rather than chisel out inlay channels.

 Copies were made using inferior materials, but these are generally easy to spot; tin plate often replaced the silver inlay, yellow brass rather than grey zinc alloy was used as the base material, and the bottles were spun or hammered rather than cast, making them much lighter in weight.

 When buying, the most important consideration is the quality of the inlay. Check that the original black background has not been polished away and that the surface is as smooth as it's meant to be.

 The condition of a piece is important in setting a price, though less than perfect pieces are still worth buying. It's not unusual, for instance, for the silver inlay to start to come away from the body, eventually leaving just the carved design in the base metal.

 Pieces are generally thought of as collectable if 90 per cent or more of the silver is intact, though items even more distressed than this are worth picking up if the design is a particularly interesting or unusual one, or the piece is very early in date.

 





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