AN EXTRAORDINARY PAIR OF INDIAN EBONY LOW CHAIRS FORMERLY OWNED BY THE DUKE OF WESTMINSTER
Coromandel coast, possibly Madras, 1680-1700
Both overall densely carved with an array of mermaids, birds, fish, mythological figures and floral and vine motifs, the back-rails are centered by a parrot (the attribute of Kama, the Hindu god of love) below a scallop shell (an attribute of Aphrodite/Venus) with a fleur-de-lis (a symbol of the Virgin Mary), the shell supported by two small human figures and a pair of mermaids, another Western element, but also a representation of the Hindu snake goddess Nagini, with crouching figures as finials, reminiscent of deity figures, with cane seatings.
H. 85 x W. 50.5 x D. 45 cm
Height of seat 41.5 cm
An identical chair is illustrated in Het Hollandsche Koloniale Barokmeubel, Dr. V. I. van de Wall, .1939, fig. 26. The Provenance of that chair is given as the Duke of Westminster, Eaton Hall, Chester. Before restoration the present pair had identical upholstered seats and the same casters as the chair of the Duke of Westminster. Therefore it seems safe to assume that the provenance of the present pair also is the Duke of Westminster, Eaton Hall in Chester. In the seat rails of the present chairs both are numbered II and III respectively, so they probably once belonged to a larger set in Eaton Hall.This type of chair usually turns up in England and seldom in Holland although they were also ordered by the Dutch on the Coromandel Coast of India. Possibly the Hindu motives of animals and humans in the carvings of these “Kust stoelen” were eventually not greatly appreciated in Muslin/Calvinist Java/Batavia. These high points in ebony furniture making were made by Hindu craftsmen in South India converted to Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese in the 16th and 17th centuries. These furniture makers, with their origins in the Hindu world, combined Hindu and Christian motives in a manner which was not seen again in furniture from India after the 17th century.
As in other known examples, the carving is in the round. The carvings on these two chairs bear close resemblance to the carving of the head- and foot-boards of the ebony rocking cradle in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (BK-1966-48, illustrated in: Asia in Amsterdam, 2015, cat. 26, p.108).