A rare two-door low-relief carved ebony and ivory cabinet with gilt-brass mounts
Sri Lanka, late 17th century
H. 32.5 x W. 40.2 x D. 28 cm
Collection Harinxma thoe Slooten, an old Frisian noble family
Ebony plates, finely carved with curly tendrils, fixed to a teak base, the inside of the doors with fixed white and red ivory plates, likewise, decorated with delicate, curling tendrils. Inside the cabinet eight various sized drawers with finely ivory carved plaques fixed with metal and ivory nails. The central bottom drawer depicting, inside a columned arch, two crowned lions sitting on their hind legs with their front paws against a tree with two parrots among its dense foliage, with gilt copper hinges, lock plates and corner pieces.
Indian, Sri Lankan and Indonesian furniture with deep relief carving, are always made of solid ebony. Fixing plates to a teak base was a practice used by ivory-workers for ivory chests and cabinets, where ivory plaques were fixed to a wooden base with ivory pins. Jan Veenendaal suggests that this kind of cabinet with fixed ebony plates was made by ivory-carvers of the Ætdatkætayamkãrayã pattalaya (guild) or kulaya (caste), living all over Sri Lanka but most especially in the centre of the island, in the kingdom of Kandy. It seems unlikely that a cabinet-maker using large quantities of ebony in chairs, settees and cupboards would take the trouble to saw thin plates to save ebony and then fasten this veneer onto a base of cheaper wood (Jan Veenendaal, Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India during the Dutch period, Museum Nusantara Delft, 1985, p.41).
The carving of the crowned sitting lions, European in appearance, is in fact a decorative Sri Lankan design and not some illustration of a European family crest.