ca. 1610-20 (made)

Height: 20.8 cm, Width: 35.5 cm, Depth: 23 cm

IS.24:1-1966 SSEA

The rectangular fall-front wooden cabinet has a flat top and is decorated on its outer surfaces and on the fronts of the six internal drawers with mother of pearl set in black lac. The central drawer has a false bottom; the interior of the drawers are coated with a fine layer of red lac and painted with gold details similar to designs found on bookbindings. On the exterior surfaces, later ebony veneers have been added to the edges and back where the decoration has been damaged. The lock plate and hinges are of chased brass and the handles of wrought iron. Four of the metal ring pulls on the drawers are later additions. The inlay on the top of the cabinet depicts a princely figure with female companion within a stylised pavilion. They are attended by a female cup-bearer and a male figure holding a flywhisk, one of the emblems of royalty. Birds including a peacock frolic in the surrounding foliage. On the front, sides and back birds and animals (some restored) are depicted between the leaves, florets and palmettes of the sinuous lines representing trees. The decoration on each side of the cabinet would originally have been framed within a narrow inner border of mother of pearl inlays in straight lines containing crosses, with an outer broader border containing scrolling ornamentation of stylised leaves and flowers.

This fall-front travelling cabinet was made in Gujarat, probably in the first two decades of the 17th century. The major city of the province was Ahmadabad, which was a centre for many crafts including the production of wooden artefacts decorated with mother-of-pearl motifs set in a layer of black lac, a natural resin. These were made from at least the early 16th century, and were exported across the subcontinent, to the Portuguese colony of Goa, and even to Europe. When the province was incorporated into the Mughal empire in the 1570s, a new market opened up at the Mughal court. The surface is extremely fragile because the lac support softens easily and releases the mother-of-pearl; veneers have therefore been added at a later date to the edges and back to replace damaged areas.

Bought from Howard Hodgkin in 1966 for £100.

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website