This casket belongs to a well-known group of mother-of-pearl items that include writing boxes, pen-cases, qur'an stands, and ceilings of shrines. Precise evidence for dating is scarce; two examples bear dates (or chronograms) corresponding to 1608-9AD and to 1587-92AD. With the exception of the shrine ceilings, most of these were apparently made for export. Evidence shows of their arrival in Europe from the beginning of the 17th century. Inscriptions on others point to their being made for the Ottoman market, while the similarity of the early Japanese Momoyama lacquer forms and decoration indicates that Japan, too, was an early customer for these lavish items.
Our example is one of the most common forms of the group, a casket with hinged lid. It differs from all the other examples, however, in that the lid is only bevelled on the longer sides. The motifs can all be paralelled in other examples of the group, but here are used perfectly fitting the proportions of the casket they cover, rather than being too small as is sometimes the case. The strong rhythmic composition of the front and back panels is unusually powerful.
Originally it would probably have had a small protruding base with four feet, here replaced in the nineteenth century by ebony. With the exception of this, the inlay is in an excellent state of preservation. The variety of colour within the mother-of-pearl indicates the care with which the pieces were chosen, giving the rich contrast of green and pink tones to the otherwise black and white conposition.
The mounts are dissimilar to those on any other pieces in the group. The use of gilt copper points to an Indian origin, but the superb quality of the engraving and piercing would make Europe a more probable source.
For a full discussion of the group see:
Digby,S., 'The mother-of-pearl overlaid furniture of Gujerat', in Facets of Indian Art, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1986