A fine high-relief carved ebony document box
Jakarta (Batavia) or Sri Lanka, late 17th century
H. 16 x W. 57.2 x D. 38 cm
The high-relief carving seen in this ebony writing box is characteristic of the decoration found in ebony cabinets, chairs, settees, beds and boxes produced for the Dutch at the end of the 17th century on the Coromandel Coast, Sri Lanka, and in Jakarta (Batavia). This type of carved ebony furniture was known as ‘custwerk’ (made on the Coromandel Coast). The carvers initially were Tamil craftsmen from South-India, the Coromandel Coast. However, as a result of many local wars and famines on the Coromandel Coast between 1630 and 1680, large numbers of Tamil artisans came, enslaved, to Batavia (or Sri Lanka) where this box was probably made. The enslaved workmen, however, got paid, albeit little, but often enough to acquire freedom, which differs from the Trans-Atlantic slave-trade, but is not so much different from the present-day sweatshops in Asia.