80.000 - 100.000
29 May 2019
Hammer PriceRegister to access this information.
Exotic timbers, tortoiseshell and ivory; silver hardware
Ceylon, possibly Halle
17th century (second-half)
Parallelepiped wooden cabinet or “ventó”, of single right opening door, coated in ivory-framed tortoiseshell plaques (probably Eretmochelys imbricata) and silver hardware.
Similarly to other known examples of this rare Singhalese production, the translucent tortoiseshell plaques are lined in yellow painted or gilt paper in order for light to reflect under its dense mottled pattern. The opulent silver hardware consists of the door hinges, the corner pieces, the large lobate and pierced lock escutcheon, extending to the cabinet’s left panel, and elements decorating the edges of the trapezoid tortoiseshell plates, the large repoussé tacks fixing the plates and punctuating the decoration mid points and the cast handle with serapendiya shaped terminals (or gurulu-pakshaya, the serpent commanding bird). This iconography, remitting to supernatural protection, alludes in this instance to the cabinet’s function as storage for precious and valuable objects. Similarly to the floral decorative grammar evident in this hardware, a characteristic of Sinhalese silver work, the handle bar is finely chiselled. Also of is the lock and corner pieces “fish egg” punctured ground, typical of Chinese and Japanese art, and invariably present in precious export furniture metal elements from both these origins, such as is the case with Namban objects.
In this particular instance it must be referred that, contrary to most export Asian made furniture types, which invariably copied prototypes introduced by the Portuguese from the early 16th century onwards, this cabinet adopts a form popular in Japan. These rare pieces became known in Portuguese as “ventó”, from the Japanese word “bento”. The Japanese word bentō however, is already defined in the first Japanese-Portuguese Dictionary, published in 1603 (Vocabulario da lingoa de Iapan), as it is still today, as a lunch-box. Truthfully, the original Japanese model for a “ventó” is normally known as a kakesuzuri-bako, literally a “portable writing desk” which, when designed with a frontal door and heavy protective hardware, such as a safe box, is defined as dansu, literally “a navy chest with drawers”: a case for keeping seals (writing equipment) and valuables (coins, money), with a single hinged front door usually mounted with complex hardware (see: Crespo 2016, pp. 136-171, cat. 15, ref. pp. 136-149).
All outer surfaces of this “ventó” repeat an identical decorative composition: the top, back and sides present a flat ivory border engraved with foliage scrolls enhanced in red paste, a field of trapezoidal tortoiseshell plaques and a rectangular (square in the front and back) central field, encased by identical ivory frame. When opened it reveals two superimposed tortoiseshell fronted twin drawers, framed by incised ivory bands and separated by a tortoiseshell-veneered divider (fixed by silver rosettes). The drawer ring-handles are also silver made. The rare red filled incised plant decoration present in this cabinet, of quintessential Singhalese design, is also recorded in a round tortoiseshell box recently published (Crespo 2019, pp. 238-239, cat. 29), in this instance associated to other iconography characteristics of the Singhalese repertoire.
A curious detail about the present “ventó”, adding to the quality and sophistication of its silver hardware, is the presence of a secret compartment (in a light coloured exotic timber), accessible through the back on the upper drawer and taking half of its height. Its assembling - dovetail joints with reinforcing bamboo pegs and metal pins fixing the bottom – is characteristic of this Sinhalese production, recently identified as from Galle (see: Dias 2006; Veenendaal 2014, pp. 33-47; e Hartkamp-Jonxis 2016).
Of small dimensions, this cabinet will add up to the rare extant examples combining ivory and tortoiseshell, which were destined to a European clientele interested in the luxurious impact of such exotic objects. This fact might explain the lesser care of its