The first recording of mother-of-pearl furniture in Gujarat is dated to 1502, when the King of Melinde presented a gift of a bedstead to Vasco de Gama (Digby, Skelton et al. 1986, p.215). A further source from the reign of Emperor Akbar, the Ain-i-Akbari, presents the continued popularity of the trade in mother-of-pearl pieces nearly one hundred years later (1595), when pieces like the present casket were popularised and created in ateliers at Ahmedabad, Cambay and Surat (Jaffer, 2002, p.22). These caskets were commissioned by the Portuguese, who at this point, enjoyed a brief monopoly of European trade in India (Swallow, 1990, p.47).
The present coffered casket is a sophisticated example of this style. Like others of its kind the casket is constructed in wood and covered with a dark mastic, whilst the interior and base are painted red. There are a few different design motifs, which occupy the panels of the casket, such as the rigid chequerboard pattern on the corners, contrasted with the fluid floral design on the sloping panels. The most idiosyncratic element is the inclusion of undulating, asymmetrical trees issuing palmettes on the side panels, uncommon on caskets. They are reminiscent of the jali screens, dating from 1572, in the Sidi Said mosque at Ahmedabad (Alfieri, London, 2000, p.104).
Two similar caskets can be seen: Christie’s, London, April 10 2014, lot 135 and in the Victoria and Albert Collection, acc. 155-1866.