Francesca Galloway Presents Sri Lankan Ivory Carvings Exhibition in London

Ivory has been the medium of choice for luxury and precious objects since Antiquity. Indian ivory objects were already in considerable demand during the Achaemenid Empire in Iran (650-330 BC) and one of the most famous examples of Roman Trade with India is the carved ivory mirror handle that was found amongst the ruins of Pompeii (79 AD).

Ivory and Tortoiseshell-veneered Cabinet Ceylon, for the Portuguese market, late 16th-17th century. Height: 16.75 cm. Width: 51 cm. Depth: 32.5 cm

The 16th century witnessed dramatic change in India with the establishment of the Mughal Empire in 1526 and the start of the classic period of Mughal art in the mid-16th century. Trade with Europe took on greater importance during this century when the Portuguese became the first Europeans to secure trading settlements at Cochin in 1503 and then at Goa in 1510. Precious and exotic objects such as intricately carved ivory caskets from India and Sri Lanka were exported to Europe, many commissioned by the royal courts.

Ivory- Material of Desire at Francesca Galloway centres around a small group of outstanding ivory objects and veneered furniture from the late 16th to the 19th century, both for domestic palace use and for the luxury export market. The exhibition will also feature around 30 miniatures. 13 of these come from the recently published collection of Eva and Konrad Seitz and are also from the 16-19th centuries.

Amongst the objects on show will be a rare and important Anglo-Indian writing cum dressing table from Raynham Hall, Norfolk. Vizagapatam ivory inlaid furniture from the late 17th and first half of the 18th century was the exclusive preserve of senior representatives of the East India Company and wealthy British patrons enamoured of exotic Anglo- Indian design.

The dressing-table from Raynham Hall is one of a small group of related furniture made in Vizagapatam around 1730-1760. Raynham Hall was carried to the Townshend family by Etheldreda (Audrey) Harrison (1709-1788), who in 1723, married the third Viscount Townshend. Her father, Edmund Harrison (1674-1732) was a senior official of the East India Company and was Governor of Madras from 1711-1717. His daughter shared her father’s passion for exotic ivory-inlaid Indian furniture. The ivory decoration of scrolling leafy stems and exotic flower patterns originated in England where musters were sent to India and there interpreted by local craftsmen for the English and European market.

Interiors of Indian palaces have always been enhanced with precious materials such as ivory, but only fragments of such ivories from ancient times survive the country’s severe monsoonal climate and turbulent history. The appearance of a complete ivory door from an Indian palace is therefore of exceptional importance. The eight panels each depict a seated courtly male with a female companion. The highly bejewelled and variously posed figures demonstrate the etiquette of courtly love as imagined by the artist. As no comparable ivory doors can be seen today in the palaces either in Mysore or Thanjavur, this example can be considered a unique survivor of a now vanished tradition.

Also in the exhibition will be a casket from Ceylon for storing jewellery and precious objects, veneered in tortoise-shell and ivory with silver mounts and handles. A pair of doors open to reveal rows of drawers, and the entire casket, in pristine condition, is covered with panels of openwork ivory elaborately carved with small animals and birds amidst scrolling vegetation. The openwork ivory is set against sheets of tortoiseshell backed with gold foil. This type of luxury object made during the 16th and 17th centuries would have appealed to the Portuguese and Spanish nobility.

The exhibition will also include a three stick dice carved with erotic scenes from Tamil Nadu or Orissa in late 17th century, an ivory -inlaid wood stringed instrument from Central or South India from the early 19th century, and an 18th century Mughal openwork howdah, made from ivory over mica. Mica ensured the decoration would shimmer in the sun or in candle-light. This grand example is from Murshidabad, circa 1760-80, would have been used by an Indian prince or raja for travelling in procession for ceremonial or state occasions or for hunting, as can so often be seen in Indian miniature painting.

The exhibition will take place at Francesca Galloway from 3rd November- 8th December.

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