60.000 - 90.000
12 March 2019
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Mother-of-Pearl, brass and coloured paste
Gujarat, India, 17th century
12,5 x 20,0 x 13,0 cm
Rare parallelepiped casket of truncated pyramidal lid, with mildly trapezoidal and convex sides wider at the base, fully coated and lined by adjoining mother-of-pearl tesserae, solely fixed by brass pins and bands, without any frame or wooden structure. This specific construction detail, normally reserved for complex shapes such as ewers and bottles, makes this casket rather unique.
On the casket exterior the mother-or-pearl tesserae, obtained from the shell of the marine gastropod Turbo marmoratus (a species favoured in the production of luxury items for its iridescence), are cut as simple fish scales (the flat lid section with trilobate elements), the whole composition framed by bands of rectangular elements. The interior, as expected for less visible surfaces, is lined in oyster mother-of-pearl, most likely Pinctada maxima, applied in an alternative mosaic design of hexagonal tesserae at the bottom and vertical rectangular blades on the four inner faces and lid.
These formal parallels, in addition to the cut-out shaped hinges with lower mother-of-pearl sections, the rare red coloured paste decoration and cypress cartouches - a tree introduced to India by Emperor Jahangir (r.1605-1627) - were very appreciated in Mughal art.
The Indian origin of identically shaped tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl caskets, parellelepiped of truncated pyramidal lids, specifically from Cambay and from Surate in Northern India, has been consensual and undisputed for the last 30 years.
One of the best know mother-of-pearl Gujarati caskets, of identical shape to the example presented herewith and likely to be, together with the tortoiseshell example from Lisbon’s São Roque Church, one of the earliest to arrive in Europe, is the famous casket from the Museum du Louvre (inv. No. OA11936), superbly mounted in silver in 1532-1533 by Pierre Mangot, silversmith to the French king François I.
The trapezoidal shape of our casket and of the raised socle on which it sits (decorated with small incised circles), refers to a casket from the Dauphin Collection, dates from c.1200.