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    Sale 7715

    Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds

    31 March 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 214



    Price Realised  


    Of rectangular form with coffered top, the decoration of composite flowers on a densely leafed ground with split palmettes against black composition, bands of chequered motifs around the base and the lid, later European hinges and lock, the leading edges with applied brass strips, two later handles, a few minor areas of restoration, minor losses, the interior with red velvet
    12¾in. (32.4cm.) high; 20¼in. (51.5cm.) wide; 11 1/8in. (28.3cm.) deep

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    European historical sources tell us that furniture and other wooden items that were lacquered and inlaid with mother-of-pearl were being created in the 16th century in Northern Gujarat, particularly around Ahmedabad, Cambay and Surat and further west in Thattha. Abu'l Fazl's A'in-i Akbari, his celebrated historical work on the Akbar period written around 1595, likewise points to the existence of this industry in Ahmedabad. In some instances these luxury items were made for Indian patrons, but they seem to have been created predominantly for European, Near Eastern and Turkish exports markets. Early records give an indication of the esteem in which they were in Europe at this time, including that of the King of France receiving a mother-of-pearl bed in 1529 and of an inlaid coffer being inventoried in the collection of the Elector of Saxony in 1602.

    The inspiration for Gujarati mother-of-pearl production remains unclear. A suggestion is that East Asian examples, such as Korean sutra boxes (caskets with bevelled lids, some attributed to the 12th-13th century), were imported to Western India, where the technique was emulated by local craftsmen. A variety of forms were produced, such as coffers, caskets, cabinets, penboxes, shields, a throne, gameboards, a bookrest, a large dish and even a pair of sandals. Presumably a multitude of these items were produced for luxury export markets. The fragile nature of the medium however means that only a few survive today, now almost entirely in museums.

    Despite only seven complete caskets with bevelled lids recorded in 1982 by Simon Digby, this group is however "the most numerous class of Gujarati mother-of-pearl works". Others have appeared on the Art market since then (S. Digby, in Facets of Indian Art, Victoria and Albert Musem, London, 1982, p.218). The large size of the present example, about 50cm., is similar to that of the casket in the Victoria and Albert museum with which it also shares similar decorative patterns. The lattice of splayed flowers that decorates the panels of our casket finds a close comparable in the lid (Amin Jaffer, Luxury Goods from India, London, 2002, p.22, fig.5). The split palmettes and the lobed roundel that fills the center of each flower are very similar on both examples. A storage chest in the David Collection showing a dense background of close sprayed flowers and comma-leaves can also be compared to ours (Sheila S. Blair, Jonathan M. Bloom, The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800, London, 1995, p.302, fig.382). This is an arabesque stylistically in keeping with what Simon Digby describes as the 'international post-Timurid style'. However, the panels of small rounded chequered motifs that run around the base and below the lid could well have received the influence of further lands. The Nanban lacquers from the Momoyama period in Japan (1573-1603) show a similar aesthetic and it is possible that Portuguese merchants contributed to a reciprocal influence between the Indian Coast and Japan.

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