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Before the arrival of Europeans, furniture in India was largely unknown, except for thrones used by the rulers. But from the end of the 16th century, with the founding of the East India Companies, the Europeans, initially the Portuguese, followed by the English and Dutch, began to establish trading settlements along the east and west coasts, which soon grew into prosperous towns. These settlers were unable to bring much furniture with them, but soon discovered that Indian craftsmen had the extraordinary skill of being able to copy a pattern meticulously. Over time, several schools of furniture makers developed in different parts of the country, their characteristics largely determined by the materials available in their region. By the end of the 18th century Indian-made European-style furniture was both aesthetically and technically accomplished.
Demand for such pieces increased after the appointment of a British Resident top the Indian court. This stimulated the fashion for European paintings and decorative arts, and most Indian potentates started collecting such pieces, sometimes commissioning them directly from the artists. In 1814, Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, ruler of Oudh, appointed Robert Home, a Scottish artist, as his court painter. In 1819, after adopting the title of King, the nawab commissioned from Home preparatory drawings for the new regalia including crowns, costumes, carriages and gilt-metal-mounted throne chairs. These chairs were used by the King and high-ranking nobility, but were also presented to Governor-Generals as gifts.
In ancient India, the thrones were known as "Simhasana", which means "Lion's seat", and were supported by such lions or tigers. "The throne" says A.M. Hocart, "expresses by physical means the King's moral superiority and it symbolises a womb of sovereignty". In later 18th and 19th century, thrones and feline animals were worked into the design of European-style chairs. In circa 1876, Queen Victoria presented Western coats-of -arms to the leading Indian Princes. The other prominent families which hadn't been allocated a specific crest invented their own. From then on, heraldic motifs, ranging from family crests to kingship symbols, such as lions and tigers, were added to furniture, which was usually made out of gold or silver, these being "Pure" materials following the Hindu religion.
In the second half of the 19th century, India was represented at the great international exhibitions. The effect of this was two fold: not only was there an increased fashion for Indian goods in Europe, but the new European styles were quickly adapted to Indian taste.
The manufacture of Anglo-Indian furniture by Indian craftsmen has never ceased.
(Literature: Amin Jaffer, Furniture in British India, 1750-1830, Unpublished PhD. thesis, Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal College of Art, 1995.).