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Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

Western India (Gujarat or Sindh)
early 17th century
Height: 29.2 cm
Width: 40.6 cm
Depth: 30.5 cm

A magnificent rosewood and ivory inlaid fall-front cabinet of European form, decorated in the Indian manner with finely detailed landscape scenes of animals, birds and floral sprays inlaid in ivory secured by small brass pins to all sides, the fall front opening to reveal six drawers within, and sitting on a later plinth base, with an English lock and escutcheon circa 1760.

To the front, the symmetrical scene depicts two men seated on a raised terrace, with one smoking a pipe. A large potted tree with a thin stem separates them, its branches full of small boteh like leaves and larger floral rosettes. To either side is a smaller tree under which stands a man who clutches a single spray raised to his face as if admiring its beauty or scent. A pair of birds, possibly partridges sit amongst the foliage whilst another pair flap in the air framing the central tree. An elaborate pierced brass escutcheon with a pattern of cusped scrolls sits to the top of the tree framing the keyhole.

To the top of the cabinet, another fine symmetrical pattern features a pair of tigers surrounding a central potted bulbous tree containing three partridges. A smaller tree frames it to either side, having a hunter below its branches preparing to shoot at the tigers, and above a large peacock, a snake in its mouth, stands as if suspended in mid-air. The scene has a double line hatched border, then a further single band of ivory to the edge. An almost identical scene is on a similar cabinet in A. Jaffer, Luxury Goods from India; The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, London, 2002, p. 44, no.15.

The back of the cabinet has a similar scene to that of the top and the front. Three prominent trees again fill the ground, this time with a pair of ibex or deer surrounding the largest central tree. Either side of the cabinet the two ends contain symmetrical scenes of bulbous central trees with rosettes and boteh like leaves and a single partridge, with a further partridge to either side of the tree. Below sit a pair of tigers, their tails up and with front claws raised as they look up towards the floral sprays above. An iron handle, still with traces of original gilding is fixed to either side of the cabinet. Octagonal brass plates cover where the handle attaches to the cabinet.

When opened, the cabinet reveals a series of six inner dovetailed drawers, all but one of which having a turned red stained ivory handle, with the same repeated pattern of a single bulbous tree with a partridge below on either side. To the top, the three single drawers are revealed to be only one when opened. The double height central drawer below has the same elaborate escutcheon seen to the front of the box, again surrounding a keyhole and this time above a silver handle. A pattern of a large tree with a small deer to either side decorates the drawer. The inner face of the fall-front has its inlaid design upside down, so that when opened it faces the cabinet rather than the person using it. Again similar to the other scenes, it depicts three trees with a pair of tigers and deer seated below.

The figures portrayed on this cabinet, with their pointed noses, wide eyes and large curly moustaches conform to the traditions of Gujarati and Rajasthani painting, and so provide clues as to the origin of the piece. Written sources also confirm that ivory inlaid objects specifically made for the western market were produced in both Gujarat and Sindh (1) where there were firmly established merchant communities from the Middle East, South-East Asia and Europe. We are therefore confident in attributing the origin of the cabinet to one of these two areas. The display of inlaid 'scenes of the chase' typifies the seventeenth century Portuguese East India Company style, even though hunting scenes such as these were traditionally seen as having a Mughal influence (2).

The cabinet was known as a scrutore and would have been an essential part of the equipage of any European official, used as a modern day briefcase, for transporting valuable or sentimental possessions. (3) A similar example can be seen in Spink & Son, Treasures Of The Courts, 1994, p.29, no.20 as well as A. Jaffer, Luxury Goods from India; The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, London, 2002, p. 45, no.15.

The Earl of Mansfield and by decent at Kenwood House, London until 1922 (Recorded in the Upper Hall at Kenwood House as 'An inlaid ivory and kingwood box...8 drawers within, fall down flap to front (probably Indian)' in the 1910 Inventory, Volume 1, p.57, item 577).

The Earl of Mansfield, at Scone Palace, Scotland from 1922 until present. Scone Palace was the coronation site of the Scottish Kings for nearly eight centuries. The grounds were also the seat of Macbeth, immortalised by Shakespeare, who ruled as King of Scotland from 1040-1057. In 1604, the Palace and lands of Scone were presented to Sir David Murray of Tullibardine in whose family they have remained to this day.

1. (A. Jaffer, Luxury Goods from India; The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, London, 2002, p. 31).
2. Ibid. p.32
3. A. Jackson and A. Jaffer, Encounters, The Meeting Of Asia and Europe 1500-1800, 2004, p. 255.

all text & images Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

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