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An extremely rare ebony and ivory-inlaid Indo-Portuguese Contador with European subject decoration


India, Goa, late 17th century


H. 131 x W. 124 x D. 48cm


Cabinets of this form, with characteristic sculptural supports and the surfaces decorated in repeating patterns of circles and stars, were produced under Portuguese patronage in and around Goa in the seventeenth century. Following a convention of treating furniture as an architectural form, Asian craftsmen incorporated Hindu divinities (typically seen in temple architecture) as supports into European-style cabinets. See Amin Jaffer, Luxury goods from India, London, 2002, pp. 58-59. This tradition continued into the nineteenth century, with mythical beasts and other deities used as sculptural supports on pieces such as buffet sideboards. Unusual about this cabinet is the incorporation of a Western fairy tale (the depiction of Virgilius the sorcerer in the ivory panel) as part of the adornment. The illustration on the ivory plaque is after a print by Lucas van Leyden (1489/1494- 1533) depicting Virgilius in love (1525). The plate illustrates the magician’s moment of humiliation when the princess with whom he fell in love left him dangling from a basket for the entire village to mock after she had promised to hoist him up to her tower room. A cabinet with closely related supports is illustrated in Jan Veenendaal, Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India, Delft, 1985, pl. 12, p. 30. Veenendaal describes the figures as river gods.

- Hofleverancier Fa A.C. Beeling Antiquairs, Leeuwarden
- Collection Piet and Margot Zanstra, Amsterdam


The history of Goa is turbulent, and colonialism did not do good to everyone there either. But culturally and socially, the colony is most interesting. From 1510 till 1964, the Portuguese held the lands. Alongside fortresses, ecclesiastical buildings dominated the skyline of most Portuguese settlements, particularly in Goa, giving the city a distinctly European and Catholic flavour and a high profile to the Church. About 600 clergymen were concentrated in Goa out of perhaps 1800 east of the Cape of Good Hope in 1630. Nevertheless, the European and Christian Eurasian community in any Portuguese settlement of the State always constituted a minority, perhaps no more than 7% in the case of Goa, the rest being Hindus, Indian Christians, other Asians and Africans, free or enslaved.

For these reasons, the State was culturally hybrid, distant as it was from Europe, with the façades and interiors of churches blending Portuguese and Asian iconographic traditions and the art showing a magnificent blend between cultures, while the domestic culture was likewise a compromise between East and West, with furniture, dress and food often more Asian than Portuguese. Later, resulting in a free-spirited area easily accessible due to the European Indian vibe, it offered a settlement for hippies in the 70s and later, and a fabulous techno culture nowadays.

- Amin Jaffer, Luxury goods from India, London, 2002, pp. 58-59.
- Jan Veenendaal, Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India, Delft, 1985, pl. 12, p. 30.

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