This richly inlaid suite of furniture is a fine example of the Indian art form of koftgari or kuftgari work. The origins of this type of decoration are relatively unknown but koftgari is specifically the technique of inlaying silver, or less commonly gold as in this instance, wire into steel. Amin Jaffer details the process; 'To prepare the object, a fine chisel is driven in various directions across its surface, creating a hatched ground. A design is then incised with a chisel and filled with silver wire, which is fixed in place with a hammer. On completion the surface of the object is burnished. It is then cleaned with sand and lemon juice and heated over a bed of charcoal, the heat from which changes the colour of the steel. Once it has taken on a bluish hue (530-600 degrees Farenheit), the object is removed and bathed in water or oil. The surface is then smoothed and covered with wax (or in modern times vaseline) in order to prevent the steel from rusting.' (A. Jaffer, Furniture From British India and Ceylon, London, 2001, p.170).
Amin Jaffer illustrates examples of Koftgari work boxes from the Travancore region although the technique seems to have been practised across the county. Indeed exhibitions of koftgari in the 19th century appear to have focused on work from the Punjab, the Calcutta Exhibition of 1883-4 included two plates, by Siventha Perumal Chockalinga and Chavai Moothoothoo. Subsequent exhibitions, the Empire of India Exhibition of 1895 and the Dehli Exhibition of 1903 also included two koftgari trays and a tray and a casket respectively.
The references to small items of koftgari work in the ehibitions may well indicate that the current pieces were of exceptional importance at their time of manufacture due to their size. The use of gold as opposed to silver inlay would further strengthen the case for these being items considered most luxurious and undoubtedly made for someone of high standing and wealth in the society of the day.
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