Photographs and Description of the 85th Birthday Gift Presented to His Highness the Aga Khan by His Worldwide Ismaili Community

[A similar version of this piece also appears on Simerg’s sister website Barakah that was inaugurated in 2017 to celebrate the Hereditary Leadership (or Imamat) of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The origins of the Divine Institution of Imamat that His Highness leads go back to the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) who designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali (a.s.), to continue to govern the Muslim community in spiritual and temporal matters. His Highness is the 49th Imam in this succession of Hereditary Imams — Ed.]

Compiled and Prepared by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergphotosSimerg and Barakah

In the Talika Mubarak (holy written message) of December 10, 2021 that was sent to the world-wide Jamat on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday on December 13, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, said: “I am most touched that on the occasion of my birthday, senior Jamati leaders have presented a beautiful gift on behalf of my global Jamat, which I accept with appreciation and gratitude.” 

Porcelain vases Aga Khan birthday present Simerg Malik Merchant
Porcelain vases presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Photo: The Ismaili.

The ‘beautiful gift’ referred to by the Imam was a pair of porcelain vases, and The Ismaili provided a brief description and photograph of the two vases in a post dated December 12, 2021.

However, the happiest moment was for the Jamats worldwide to see Mawlana Hazar Imam himself holding one of the two vases in a garden setting at his Lisbon residence, with what appears to be an orange or clementine tree in the background. What a beautiful photo Fernando Costa captured for all of us to see, and give us so much joy.

Aga Khan holding gift of porcelain vase presented to him on his 85th birthday
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, is seen holding one of the two 19th century porcelain vases that was presented to him by leading Ismaili leaders on behalf of the global Ismaili community on the occasion of his 85th auspicious birthday on December 13, 2021. Photo: Fernando Costa / IPL via The Ismaili.

This pair of porcelain lavender-ground vases were made in 1874 at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, which became the preeminent porcelain manufacturer in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century, the Sèvres factory’s output reflected an ongoing desire for technical innovation as well as a wide embrace of diverse decorative and historical styles. The shape and design of these vases is based on a Persian metal prototype and, as such, they are recorded in the Sèvres Archives as ‘Vase Bouteille Persane’. Eighteen similar vases were entered for sale in January 1874 and described as ‘fond sous couverte et décor en or’ (under cover and gold decoration) at a cost of 95 francs each. [1]

Gift to Aga Khan from Ismailis on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.
Detail of vase presented by the worldwide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.

Of Islamic shape, the ovoid body of each vase continues in a long narrow elongated tapered neck, all made in three sections and each joined with two slender fillets of ormolu. The vases are decorated with elaborate Persian gold-powder motifs  in the form of interlacing scrollwork and arabesques on the body and ornamented fillets on the neck in heightened relief against a pale lavender or ‘fond changeant’ ground. Designed by the important Parisian sculptor, Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887), the vases exist in several versions that differ according to their colour and decoration.

The lavender colour of the vases presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam is very unusual — it changes according to the light under which it is placed, from purple/grey in daylight to pale pink in artificial light. This change of colour according to its exposure to light is due to a mixture of vanadium oxide and cerium oxide. This use of the ‘chameleon’ paste was invented in 1848 by the Sèvres factory chemist Alphonse Louis Salvetat for the 1862 Universal Exhibition held in London to promote the savoir-faire (know how) of the world’s rapidly expanding industries.

Close up of the vase presented by the world wide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.
Detail of vase presented by the worldwide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.

While similar vases in blue and white are to be found in private and museum collections, vases in this pale lavender colour are exceptionally rare. The vases bear, on the underside, green printed lozenge and iron-red decore marks, as well as various incised potters inscriptions, of the Sèvres factory. The vases, each of which is 55 cm in height, are in extremely fine condition. Using the same techniques pioneered during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres continues to produce some of the most high quality works of porcelain art — vases, painted plaques, dinner services, figures — to this day, and it is therefore not surprising that Sèvres is such an integral part of the landscape of the decorative arts today.

Date posted: December 25, 2021.

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[1] Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres Archive, Registre Vr, 1 iere serie, vol.2, fol. 247.17.

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