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Reversible games board

Reversible games board

  • Place of origin:

    Gujarat (possibly, made)
    Sindh (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    16th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Teak, veneered with ebony, citronwood, ivory and micromosaic

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    South Asia, Room 41, case 16 []

The use of tropical woods shows that this reversible games board was made in the Indian subcontinent. One side has alternating squares of ebony and ivory for chess; the other has divisions and ornate decoration for a game which has yet to be identified. Travellers to the regions of Sindh and Gujarat in the 16th century often refer to the local manufacture of finely worked ivory-inlaid games boards made there, of which this may be a rare surviving example.

Physical description

Chess board on one side; ornately decorated reverse side for a so far unidentified game; teak veneered with ebony, citronwood, ivory and micromosaic motifs.

Place of Origin

Gujarat (possibly, made)
Sindh (possibly, made)


16th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Teak, veneered with ebony, citronwood, ivory and micromosaic


Length: 32.5 cm, Width: 29.2 cm

Object history note

Calza, Gian Carlo (ed.) Akbar: the great emperor of India. Rome : Fondazione, Roma Museo, 2012. ISBN 978-88-572-1525-9 (hard cover edition); ISBN 978-88-572-1793-2 (soft cover edition). p.247 , cat. no.III.3.

Historical context note

"Were it not for the use of tropical woods in its manufacture, this games board might well have been made in sixteenth-century Italy, so closely does its aesthetic conform with examples of woodwork produced there in the 'Veneto-Saracenic' style. This board is configured on one side with alternating squares of ebony and ivory for, and on the other with divisions for tric-trac, an ancestor of modern-day backgammon [see note]. Both sides are veneered with ebony inlaid with ivory, and with sadeli, a micro-mosaic of woods and metals arranged in geometric patterns. This technique has been in use since Antiquity, but is particularly associated with the Near and Middle East, whence it spread, both west to Italy and east to Persia and India. The Italian variety of this work was known as alia certosina, after the Certosa (Charterhouse) of Pavia, one of many places where such work was executed.

Common to both East and West, games boards were among the first articles encountered by Europeans in India which they themselves could use. Duarte Barbosa recorded among the articles he saw in India around 1516 'bracelets, sword-hilts, dice, chessmen and chessboards'. Huygen van Linschoten observed at Cambay around 1585 'fine playing tables, and Chessebordes of Ivory', and Francesco Pelsaert saw that in Sindh in about 1626 'draught-boards, writing cases, and similar goods are manufactured locally in large quantities; they are very prettily inlaid with ivory and ebony, and used to be exported in large quantities to Goa and the coast-towns.'"

Amin Jaffer, Luxury Goods From India: the art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, London : V&A, 2002, pp.20-21, ill. ISBN: 1 85177 381 9.

Note: in the opinion of Irving Finkel and Andrew Topsfield (April 2012) the reverse side is definitely not a backgammon board. If a games board at all, rather than an abstract design, the specific game has yet to be identified. The term 'sadeli' does not seem to have been used until the early 20th century, and then only by English commentators.

Descriptive line

Reversible, rectangular games board, teak veneered with ebony, citronwood, ivory and micromosaic, Gujarat or Sindh, late 16th or early 17th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Luxury goods from India : the art of the Indian cabinet maker / Amin Jaffer. London: V&A Publications, 2002 Number: 1851773819
Veronica Murphy, in The Indian Heritage. Court Life and Arts under Mughal Rule, V&A, 1982, cat. 455, p.137, ISBN 0906969263.

Subjects depicted

Floral patterns




South & South East Asia Collection

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