Beautifully Decorated Kopi Vase for Water and Oil

Inventory Number: 125602

Foto Digitale

 

A Kopi, a vase to carry oil or water, is fashioned from camel skin in the shape of a flask with two circular handles. The narrow mouth is decorated with a lotus petal theme. On a red background, intertwining floral motifs are etched in gold, while at the center, a golden flower is painted upon a black background. At the beginning of the 20th century, the production of liquid containers made from camel skin (or occasionally sheepskin) was common in what is today south-central Pakistan (Multan and Lahore) and western Rajasthan (Bikaner). The Diocese of Lahore sent these containers to the Vatican Museums, explaining that they were products of Multan. This indicates that they originate from modern-day Pakistan. Watts wrote in 1903, however, that the Pakistani products had characteristic paper inserts that this particular piece appears to lack, although it seems to be executed exactly in the Rajasthan style. The technique for creating these containers required a special softening and scraping of the animal skin, giving it the desired thinness and elasticity. It was then stretched out and pulled over a type of clay until it was dry and inalterably resilient to its liquid contents. The parts of the neck and the opening were made from thicker skins and modelled by hand in a coiled form. Then, ornamental motifs were drawn on the leather, those parts that were in relief were coated over with a mixture of shell dust, glue, and extract of wood-apple fruit. These were then accentuated with gold paint upon the red background. Watts also reported the use of a paint created from crushed bricks, likely to create the red color of the background, but it is unclear in which phase of production this was used. The result is a durable container with a large capacity, commonly used to transport liquids, especially oil. These vases range from large jugs to small vessels for perfumed oils and, naturally, vary in the degree of ornamentation and value depending upon the necessity. Once completed, the kopi does not reveal its animal origins, but still has an elasticity and lightness that ceramic containers lack. This delicacy made the kopi very unique in that time period.  Currently the Ethnological Museum is under renovation, but it is expected that this piece will return on display in the near future.