Exotic wood, teak, East Indian nosewood ivory and dyed ivory; iron fittings Gujarat, India or Sindh (in present-day Pakistan) mid-17th century.
The present writing cabinets were modelled after European totypes and are portable objects which rank among the most prestigious of storage furniture from the 16th century. These costly pieces, were known in Germany as a schreibtisch or "writing desk", where the most coveted and expensive ones were produced. The hinged front drops down to form a surface for writing while the many drawers, some with individual locks, gave access to what was kept in the cabinet's multiple compartments, such as documents, writing implements and paper, or even jewels and other valuables. This type of luxurious piece of furniture was prevalent in the interior furnishings of European noble and patrician households and portable fall-front cabinets of this type were a basic requirement of European officials, merchants and traders living and travelling in Asia. Small, precious writing cabinets and boxes made in Asia with exotic and expensive materials such as tortoiseshell and ivory were much admired and avidly sought after in Europe due not only to their appealing design but also to their technical perfection. As is known by documentary evidence, namely from contemporary trav- el accounts, the production of this type of furniture was based in north-western India, n the coastal regions of Gujarat and Sindh (in present-day Pakistan), which were long-standing centres of production of luxury goods, where firmly established merchant communities from the Middle East, South-East Asia and Europe.
Decorated with two elegant rows of ten (six on the sides) alter nating flowering plants of multiple species some rendered naturalistically and others stylised inside the central field bordered by an undulating frieze of alternating flowers, most probably poppies, a similar, yet more naturalistic rendition of the species may be observed. One characteristic feature of this production, which may also be observed in similar cabinets ve neered in tortoiseshell, a the chequered borders. The in terior is fitted with ten drawers (one simulating two) fitted with small, turned and dyed ivory knobs, set in four tiers with a large square drawer at the centre. While the decora tion on the front of the drawers consists of two flowering plants (except for the centre drawer set with a single, taller flowering plant), the inner side of the fall-front is decorated with two baluster-vases with flowering plants alternating with smaller flowering plants. One curious aspect of its decoration is the presence of small curling clouds crowning the top of the upper row of flowering plants on the front These are clearly reminiscent of Chinese-style auspicious clouds.
On the other hand, similar cloud formations feature regularly in contemporary Persian carpets. In fact, the stylistic similarities between the inlay decoration and tex tiles with floral imagery namely to the so-called "shaped carpets" probably produced in Lahore in terms of their design and transmission, are clearly evident (see Walker 1998, p. 105). A matching rosewood veneered writing from the Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 1599-1903, differs solely in its decoration of the central field of the fall-front exterior, which contrary to the present cabinet, features one single row of three flow ering plants. A similarly decorated table cabinet (28 x 54.9 41.3 cm) with two tiers of drawers, from the second half of the 17th century is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 1976.176.1 (see Merkel 1989, p. 152, cat, no. 161)
The most striking decorative feature on this cabinet is the architectural decoration of the central drawer: a two-dimensional depiction ofa domed pergola or pavilion with a baluster running across the lower section two baluster-shaped columns which support the dome and are crowned by two facing birds he ba on uster column. In the centre, a flowering plan depicted, harbouring as though in her nest, a Pelican vulning herself, a theme also Pelican in her piety with a mother pelican cutting into her own flesh to feed her young with her blood. This is symbol Jesus Christ shedding his precious blood for the redemp tion of Humanity, and also a symbol for the Church distributing the graces of Christ's redemption in the mass and sacraments. It is a symbol of Christian piety and a recur. rent motif in so-called Indo-Portuguese art, used not only a religious context (which is probably the case here) but also in art works commissioned by wealthy officials, noble men and merchants in Portuguese Asia. One similar, albeit smaller example from the Tivora Sequeira Pinto collection 25.9 x 40.5 x 30.1 cm, features a similar design on the central drawer, with a matching domed pergola (see the photos in the slide show)
Source: PedroAguiar Branco AR-PAB Gallery
CHOISES Catalogue , Author Hugo Miguel Crespo,
Art is from the Gallery collection, price on request
Lisbon, AR-PAB Álvaro Roquette - Pedro Aguiar-Branco, Rua D. Pedro V, 69, 1250-093 Lisboa, Portugal, T. +351 213421682