Vizagapatam ivory treasure chest

19th century

Description of a sandalwood Anglo-Indian treasure chest, realized around the 19th century in Vizagapatam.

Sandalwood jewel box covered with ivory and bone, richly decorated with typical Vizagaparm oriental-exotic motifs.

Along with a rectangular shape and urn top, the box hes decorative elements on the top, on the sides and on the edges. Lock and joints are silvered.

The lightly curved to is entirely decorated; in the center, inside the ivory square, there is a scene of Hindu inspiration surrounded by a double frame decorated with flowers and leaves garland and a Greek.

Scrigno anglo-indiano sopra
Scrigno anglo-indiano dettaglio

In the middle of the square there is an Indian deity set down, probably Vishnu. On the sides there are two less important figures at the service of the God on the branches. Vishnu is sitting on a base/plinth decorated with marble leaves and exotic motifs.

In the Indian culture postures, facial expressions and hand gestures give important information about temper and attitudes of the represented deity.

Vishnu, second person of the Trimurti ( threefold form o f the Supreme Being),is represented wearing a regal crown – God of world- and four arms, in each of which is holding some of his principal attributes: a shell – weapon against demons, a bat – instrument that killed the demon Gadaa and often a wheel- that symbolizes Sun and protection- and a lotus flower, symbol of the solar deity.

The two free hands, the right one – with bent arm – open with palm facing out and fingers toward the sky and the left one – with arm extended towards the observant – open downwards, indicating reassurance and salvation (Abhaya Mudra – the frontal open arm symbolizes moving away from fear) along with charity and compassion (Varada Mudra – open hand downwards that symbolizes giving).

Legs’ posture – not crossed – with the left foot free and the right one bent facing inside, is typical of heroes. The bottom part of the jewel box has similar decorative elements to the ones on the top. The treasure chest is supported by four bone feet carved as feline paws.

Scrigno anglo-indiano fronte
Scrigno anglo-indiano aperto

Inside i also made with sandalwood: the upper part has a gilded frame in the center with Greek motifs (similar to those on the outside part of the top) while the bottom body is divided in small compartments – of different sizes- bone profiled. The central compartment was supposed to be closed with a small lid ( we can see the signs of joints closet on the locker).

The internal edging is made with ebony with clear veining. The lower right profile is interrupted with a silver inlay, a crossbar, that supported the top.

The jewel box is in good conditions and is datable around the second half of the 19th century.

Size: cm. 8,5 x 22,5 x 17

Inspect the object

Historical stylistic analysis

Anglo-Indian boxes have been made in India since the first half of the 18th century for English buyers. Since the bigini of the 19th century their production grew.

Most of this objects were made with sandalwood (hard wood, deemed easy to be cleaned and polished, often used in fine ebony works and in the manufacturing of luxury pieces) e then veneered with ivory, tortoiseshell, horn or feathers.

The first decorations were applications of ivory edges/bands engraved and filled with black lacquer creating flowery motifs.

During the lasts decades of 18th century the engraved edging were replaced with neoclassical draws in fashion in England. The decoration became more and more linear with delicate garlands and Greek motifs as Robert Adam’s style. Feathers and horn were also used for veneering.

From the beginning of the 19th century the types of shape of the boxes got wider: sarcophagus treasure chests or with popular architectural forms in fashion in England. Decorations became more various and sometimes even more oriental.
Indicative of the cultural influences of the time is the fact that Anglo-Indian boxes could be sarcophagus shaped (Egyptian influence), made with ivory, decorated with oriental figure.

The inner part of these treasure chests was often in small compartments, sometimes equip with reels and sewing tools.

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