A RARE AND FINE CALLIGRAPHIC MOTHER-OF-PEARL AND BLACK LAC VENEERED JEWELLERY BOX
A RARE AND FINE CALLIGRAPHIC MOTHER-OF-PEARL AND BLACK LAC VENEERED JEWELLERY BOX
A RARE AND FINE CALLIGRAPHIC MOTHER-OF-PEARL AND BLACK LAC VENEERED JEWELLERY BOX
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A RARE AND FINE CALLIGRAPHIC MOTHER-OF-PEARL AND BLACK LAC VENEERED JEWELLERY BOX
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Prospective purchasers are advised that several co… Read more
A RARE AND FINE CALLIGRAPHIC MOTHER-OF-PEARL AND BLACK LAC VENEERED JEWELLERY BOX

PROBABLY GUJARAT, NORTH WEST INDIA, LATE 16TH CENTURY

Details
A RARE AND FINE CALLIGRAPHIC MOTHER-OF-PEARL AND BLACK LAC VENEERED JEWELLERY BOX
PROBABLY GUJARAT, NORTH WEST INDIA, LATE 16TH CENTURY
Of rectangular form, the straight walls rising from a bevelled base to a flat lid, extremely finely veneered with panels of mother-of-pearl set within black lac ground, the decoration arranged around large cartouches inscribed with Persian verses in nasta'liq script, the borders with floral meanders, palmettes and foliage, the lid with an eight-pointed star medallion filled in with verses arranged in a mirrored composition in nasta'liq script, the borders similarly decorated, the interior with red lac, with two modern Japanese fitted wooden boxes
Provenance
With Spink, London, 1994, cat.21, pp.30-31
Special notice

Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.
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Romain Pingannaud
Romain Pingannaud

Lot Essay

The Persian verses on the sides and on the lid translate:
Your ambergris like mole [around your lips] came and put a seal on that box / [then] your lips put a lock of ruby on that treasure box / in the treasure box of pearl the agate of your lips did put the pendant of life / and, as your lips found the jewellery box very precious, treasured it in a secret place

Gujarat is first mentioned as the centre of mother-of-pearl work in 1502, when the King of Melinde, on the East Coast of Africa, presented Vasco de Gama with a 'bedstead of Cambay, wrought with gold and mother of pearl, a very beautiful thing' (The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama, London, 1869, quoted in Simon Digby, 'The mother-of-pearl overlaid furniture of Gujarat; the holdings of the Victoria and Albert Museum', in Robert Skelton et. al (ed.), Facets of Indian Art, London, 1986, p.215). This box belongs to a group of wood objects covered in a dark mastic and inset with pieces of mother-of-pearl and generally thought of as the speciality of Northern Gujarat, particularly around Ahmedabad, Cambay, Surat and further west in Thattha. This attribution is largely due both to European travellers' accounts and to Abu'l Fazl's Ain-i Akbari, the celebrated historical work on the Akbar period written around 1595. That work refers to the province of Ahmedabad as a centre for exports including articles worked with mother-of-pearl. This geographical attribution is further evidenced by the survival of mastic-inset and mother-of-pearl decorated domed cenotaph canopies which survive in the tombs of revered Sufi Shaykhs including Shah 'Alam at Rasulabad and Shaykh Ahmad Khattu at Sarkhej, both close to Ahmedabad and erected between 1605 and 1608 (Amin Jaffer, Luxury Goods from India. The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, London, 2002, p.24).

In his discussion of this group, Digby writes that due to the fragile nature of the medium only around 30 recorded examples of this type of work exist, now almost entirely in museums. Their decoration most frequently takes the form of vegetal or geometric designs. Relatively few are inscribed in the manner seen here. The known example that are inscribed are on the whole pen boxes, one of which was sold in these Rooms, 7 April 2011, lot 225. Others are in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gifted to them by Joan Palevksy (Digby, op.cit., fig.3, p.216) and the Benaki Museum (Benaki Museum. A Guide to the Museum of Islamic Art, Athens, 2006, no. 248, p.180). The Benaki example, which is in fact bears the date 1587, has a companion piece in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington (Susan Stronge, Made for Mughal Emperors. Royal Treasures from Hindustan, London, 2010, pl.143, p.181). All of these share similar vegetal ornament in the background, with dense comma-shaped leaves springing from curling stems. Though metaphorical, the inscription on the pen box that sold in these Rooms in 2011 referred many times to the pen and to script, alluding to the function of the object. This perhaps indicates that the inscription on this box, which refers to precious stones and jewellery, suggest use as a jewellery box.

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.

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