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Luxury Goods from India: The Art of the Indian Cabinet-maker

Amin Jaffer

Book Reference:  ISBN-10: 0810965992 Hardcover: 112 pages

The breathtaking craftsmanship in the creations Amin describes is to be enjoyed.

Some of this amazing work from the time/place still survives. In each object there is so much work-time: designing, making a carcass with joinery often in rosewood, which was grown for purpose;  veneering with ivory, incising the ivory dealing with the client.  There is scraping turning carving with hand tools. History.

So many  hours of human time is recorded in every  surviving object.

Although  many of the shapes are from English designers such as Chippendale, Sheraton, and Hepplewhite. The marriage of Indian artistic creative skilled art resulted in Art at its highest.

These pieces will never be made again. With CITES prohibitions many of the materials are no longer allowed to be used.      

We must look after what still exists, they are the human inheritance


Many of these masterpieces were made to satisfy the demand of the colonial powers: the Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers who arrived on Indian shores from the late 15th century. They discovered, to their surprise, rare articles of courtly furniture richly worked and inlaid with precious stones and gold. However there was no local furniture that suited the settlers' manner of living, so they commissioned extravagant pieces along European lines from native craftsmen, allowing them free rein with local materials. The resulting fusion of Western forms with Indian materials and decorative techniques gave rise to a wide range of luxury goods - cabinets, game-tables, painted boxes, ceremonial arms - that were breathtaking in their craftsmanship and widely prized in Europe, where they found their way into royal collections, ecclesiastical treasuries and stately houses. The fifty pieces in this volume, dating from the 15th to the late 19th century, demonstrate the diversity and skill of Indian craftsmanship and tell a fascinating story about the changing role of domestic objects and their use in the subcontinent. They illustrate the subtle interaction between European and Indian tastes and sensibilities, and chart the course of colonial patronage. Many pieces illustrated here have never been published before, and Amin Jaffer's scholarly yet accessible text throws new light on a rich and largely unexplored tradition. 


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Below are some boxes I have documented on our site. It is becoming increasingly hard to find examples which have survived with their integrity  

A sandalwood  box of basket form veneered with porcupine quills framed with incised and lac filled ivory having a horn handle and standing on turned horn feet. Anglo Indian Vizagapatam circa 1850.  753SB: An Anglo Indian Vizagapatam radiating faded black buffalo  horn of dramatic curved shape Circa 1835 737SB: Anglo-Indian, Vizagapatam, box in the form of a basket, the wooden frame covered in porcupine quills, framed in ivory which is incised and decorated in black lacquer, with a horn handle. It stands on turned horn feet. Circa 1850.     743SB: Anglo-Indian (Vizagapatam) box in wood covered in horn, of sarcophagus form, with a segmented radiating  top culminating in a turned and carved floral finial. An Indian interpretation of English Regency aesthetic. This is a small box which shows absolute mastery of design. Circa 1840.     SB536: A sandalwood basket veneered in horn and ivory. Although such baskets were a popular Vizagapatam design, this one is very unusual in that it combines both solid ivory panels incised and lac filled in traditional plant motifs and fretted ivory work. Furthermore, the central cartouches are engraved with representations of Indian deities and not floral designs which was the normal decoration on such baskets. It stands on lion paw feet. The handle is decorated with scrolling flowers in characteristic fashion. Circa 1870.    SB421: Anglo Indian basket form box veneered with ebony and inlaid with Sadeli mosaic having an ebony handle and standing on turned ebony feet the inside lined with sandalwood. circa 1840.   TC135: An important and monumental Anglo Indian Vizagapatam black buffalo horn tea chest the horn fluted and framed by engraved horn panels,  standing on turned and carved horn feet  the inside contrasting having twin lift-out  sandalwood  canisters  with incised and lac filled hinged ivory lids, flanking a cut crystal bowl. Circa 1835.    885JBAI: Antique rare first period Anglo Indian box veneered all over with <I>Sadeli</I>mosaic Circa 1800 width=  


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