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  • Place of origin:

    Sri Lanka (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Jackwood, veneered with carved ivory, with silvered brass mounts

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This cabinet represents the high point of ivory carving in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) under Dutch patronage. There is a small group of cabinets of this form, all constructed with carved panels of ivory veneer secured to a wooden carcase. However, on this example the maker has carved each panel of the exterior with a vase of flowers in bloom, surrounded by floral borders. Dutch cabinets dating from about 1650 to 1700 have similar decoration but in marquetry. ( In this technique the pattern is made up of a thin layer of small pieces of coloured woods and other materials.)
We do not know whether it was an engraving or an actual piece of furniture decorated with blooms that inspired this cabinet. Dutch customers in the East Indies certainly had a taste for large blooms. This is evident in furniture, silver, textiles and gravestones produced locally from about 1680 to 1720. Vase-and-flower decoration in a similar style also featured in Mughal architectural decoration. It appears on the dados of the upper burial chamber of the mausoleum of the Taj Mahal (about 1632-1636). It also featured on other earlier architecture, for example the minaret at the Mosque of Qutb Shah, Ahmedabad (1449). However, it is likely that Dutch herbariums inspired its use at the Taj Mahal. Members of the Mughal court knew and admired such books, which also influenced the course of Mughal flower painting.
The V&A bought this cabinet at auction in 1959. Its provenance says that it belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. Nothing further is known about where or when Holman Hunt acquired it. An ivory cabinet of very similar shape and decoration appears in Holman Hunt'sThe Shadow of Death (1870-1873; retouched 1888). This painting portrays the adult Jesus and the Virgin Mary in a carpenter's workshop.

Physical description

Cabinet of jackwood, veneered with carved ivory and with silvered brass mounts. Ivory carved with floral decoration.

Place of Origin

Sri Lanka (made)


ca. 1700 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Jackwood, veneered with carved ivory, with silvered brass mounts


Height: 69 cm, Width: 87.6 cm, Depth: 52 cm

Object history note

This object was purchased at auction with a provenance to William Holman Hunt, the Pre-Raphaelite artist, although nothing is known of how he acquired it.

Descriptive line

Ivory veneered cabinet with floral decoration, Sri Lanka, ca. 1700.

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
fig. 32
Irwin, John, C., A Brief Guide to Indian Art, H.M.S.O. 1962

Subjects depicted

Flowers; Floral patterns


South & South East Asia Collection

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