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A Sri Lankan mãrã or East Indian walnut ‘Burgomaster’ chair


Galle, early 19th century

H. 81.5 x W. 74 cm / Seat height 45.5 cm / Seat diam. 58 cm

The plain, unadorned round-back chair of the late 17th-early 18th century was superseded in the second half of the 18th century by chairs with carved and pierced decoration in the rococo taste. Judging from the many examples of burgomaster chairs, dating from the third quarter of the 18th century, the round chair enjoyed enormous popularity in the former Dutch East Indies. Later they also became popular with the English in India and Sri Lanka. After the Dutch were expelled from Sri Lanka by the British in 1796, burgomaster chairs continued to be made in Sri Lanka for the English, well into the 19th century. Jaffer points out that this popularity can be partly ascribed to the view held among early 19th century English antiquaries that the round chair was an early English form. This idea was propagated in Henry Shaw’s Specimen of Ancient Furniture (published in monthly parts from 1832 to 1836 and then in a single volume in 1836) which illustrated a Rococo example and alleged that it belonged to the period of William III (A. Jaffer, Furniture from British India and Ceylon, London, 2001, p. 379).

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