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Cabinet front

Cabinet front

  • Place of origin:

    Gujarat (made)

  • Date:

    c. 1605-1630 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    ivory, teak

  • Museum number:

    IS.39-1898

  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, case BY7, shelf CASE1

This thick wooden panel would originally have been the fall-front element of a small cabinet. Each side of the panel, which is probably teak, has a very thin veneer inlaid with horn, including some motifs stained green or red. The large trees, confronted tigers, peacocks and other birds, hunters, and the courtly couple in the design are typical of those found on cabinets and other wares made in Gujarat in Western India from the late 16th century. These were exported across the subcontinent and were also sold to the many Europeans living in Portuguese Goa. This example probably dates from the early 17th century, by which time the formerly independent kingdom of Gujarat had become part of the Mughal empire.
The panel had been acquired by William Morris, and in 1897 his widow lent it to the South Kensington Museum. The following year, the Museum bought it for the Indian Section for £12.12s.

Physical description

The thick wooden panel, probably teak, has a very thin veneer on each side inlaid with horn, which includes some motifs stained green or red. The dark veneer is likely to be ebony, and the reddish veneer probably mahagony. The larger inlays are secured with small pins, and some of the incised details are filled with black or red lac. The panel was presumably the front of a fall-front cabinet, as indicated by the lock, but the designs on both sides are orientated in the same way so that the inner side would appear upside down on opening the cabinet (usually the design faces the viewer, but a similar orientation is found on 122-1906). The front side, with keyhole at the top, is decorated with a scene within a border of two thin horn lines containing horn cross-shaped motifs set in black lac within circles cut out of the veneer. A central large tree with blossom-filled branches fanning out to form a circle from a central trunk. has seven birds perching in the foliage. It grows from a large urn resting on a green-stained basin; at left and right, identical tigers face each other, clasping a dead ibex in their front paw. Similar smaller trees are behind each tiger, each inhabited by three birds and topped by a stylised peacock holding a snake in its beak. The tails of each bird are inlaid with red- and green-stained horn circles. At the outer edge of the design, identical hunters step towards the centre, brandishing a spear in one hand and holding a small buckler in the other.

The design on the reverse is contained within an inlaid horn frame matching that on the front. A courtly couple face each other, kneeling on a low platform (takht) that rests on four baluster-shaped legs. A small blossoming tree between them is similar to those on the reverse, and has three birds in its branches. The man smokes a huqqa (hubble bubble) rendered in red lac, that he holds in his hand. Red lac has also been used for the stripes of his turban. His features are incised with black lines into the horn. His female companion has a do-patta over her head, and wears a choli and baggy trousers with short, undecorated patka. The takht, basin and a low mount beneath the takht, are all stained green.
To left and right are larger trees similarly growing from large urns resting on green basins; five birds perch in the branches of each. To left and right are male figures, each holding a hawk and dressed identically to the central male figure, but without jewellery.

Place of Origin

Gujarat (made)

Date

c. 1605-1630 (made)

Materials and Techniques

ivory, teak

Dimensions

Height: 33 cm, Width: 47.3 cm, Depth: 2.5 cm

Object history note

On loan to the South Kensington Museum (with a Persian carpet) on 28 July 1897 from Mrs Morris, Kelmscott House, The Mall, Hammersmith. The carpet (719-1897) was explicitly stated to have belonged to William Morris; the panel presumably was also [Morris & Co & Mr & Mrs William Morris 1886-1904. NF SF 313 Part 1, MA/1/M2848]. The panel was subsequently bought for the Indian Section for £12.12 as 'Punjab, 17th c.'

Historical significance: Early example of Mughal period inlaid wood, probably belonging to a fall-front cabinet of European inspiration. Almost certainly acquired by William Morris.

Historical context note

For the history of fall-front cabinets of European inspiration made in Gujarat and Sindh in the 16th and 17th centuries, see Amin Jaffer, Luxury Goods from India. The art of the Indian cabinet-maker, V&APublications, 2002, catalogues 3, 6 and 7. See also catalogue 8, a cabinet on table stand attributed to Gujarat or Sindh, late 16th or early 17th century, which has identical 5-petal flowers and curling leaf motifs, as well as similarly clad male and female figures. The patkas, it is pointed out (p. 31) have geometric designs 'resembling those in fashion at Jahangir's court'; the 16th century 'chakdar jama' worn by some of the figures on the cabinet is not found on the present panel, suggesting that it dates to the reign of Jahangir.

Descriptive line

Teak veneered with ebony and mahagony, inlaid with horn, partly stained. Probably Gujarat or Sindh, c. 1605-1630

Labels and date

Detached front of a cabinet
About 1605–30

Probably India (Gujarat) or Pakistan (Sindh)

Teak, with replacement sections in oak and softwood
Veneer: ebony and other woods, horn (some stained), shellac infill
Pins and lock: metal

Museum no. IS.39-1898

Pale wood now shows along the edges. This is the solid substrate onto which thinly sawn veneers of dark ebony were glued. Holes were cut in the veneer with a knife. Flat pieces of white horn were then inset and pinned.

Around the border, horn stars were set in black paste to reduce the amount of intricate cutting, and to fill any gaps. [01/12/2012]

Production Note

or Sindh

Materials

Teak; Horn; Mahogany

Techniques

Inlay; Marquetry

Subjects depicted

Falcon; Containers; Tree

Categories

Furniture

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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