A gem-encrusted gold finial from the octagonal golden throne of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, will be sold at Bonhams, leading their Indian & Islamic Art sale. The auction house has already sold one such finial for £389,600 on 2nd April 2009 (as we mentioned in a recent article on Indian collectibles).
The finial now for sale is one of the most important Tipu items ever to appear at auction. It was in the possession of the same Scottish family for the past 200 years coming down to the present owner by direct descent.
The first finial sold at Bonhams had lain in an English castle, for at least 100 years and then in a bank vault, unknown to Tipu enthusiasts and scholars. It was discovered by Bonhams Islamic Department on a routine valuation.
Tipu Sultan was the East India Company's most tenacious enemy. A fanatical and relentless warrior, he vowed not to mount his elaborate throne until he had vanquished the British.
Tipu is considered to be one of the most accomplished and daring rulers of pre-colonial India, devising campaigns which inflicted humiliating defeats on the British, sometimes by using Western weapons and techniques against their inventors.
It is believed that he introduced the military rocket to attack enemy infantry, a tactic that helped him win a number of victories over British armies, undercutting the view that they were invincible.
In Tipu's own words, he said: "I would rather live one day as a tiger than a lifetime as a sheep". He customised objects of art and instruments of warfare with tiger-stripe motifs, from his throne to canons and blunderbusses. When travelling away from his kingdom, he even wore a coat with the motif.
The tiger finial now on sale at Bonhams is one of three surviving tiger head finials that adorned Tipu's elaborate throne.
Although some of the most important items from Tipu Sultan's palace were reserved for the British Royal Family, the famous golden throne was broken up so that the elements could be shared, much to the disapproval of the Governor-General, Lord Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington).
The throne was broken up so quickly following the fall of Seringapatam that little is known about the fate of the remaining throne relics; however, a large gold tiger head from the front of the throne platform now resides at Windsor Castle along with a jewelled bird which was presented to Queen Charlotte the wife of George III. Another surviving finial can be found at Powis Castle, acquired by the second Lady Clive in India.
Sold as a separate but related lot in this sale is the remarkable eyewitness account by Benjamin Sydenham of the battle which led to the final destruction of Tipu Sultan and his forces. It is addressed to Earl Macartney and was immaculately written in a copperplate script in 1799. It recounts in some 50 pages the story of the end of the Tiger of Mysore.
This extraordinary written account is estimated to sell for £10,000 to £15,000. Sydenham retained a fascination for Tipu Sultan, and later wrote a description of his 16 hunting cheetahs. These animals were carried to within 500 yards of a deer or an antelope before their hoods were removed and they were released to launch their attack.
The extraordinary piece will sell on October 7 in London.