A Highly important ivory-inlaid Indo-Portuguese cabinet of Royal Provenance, Goa, India, late 17th century
- cormandel wood, ivory, metal
By descent to their youngest daughter Antonia, who married Leopold Fürst von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1835-1905), Schloss Sigmaringen
Sold at Sotheby's, Aus Deutschen Schlössern "Ancestral Attics", Schloss Monrepos, 9-14 October 2000, lot 100
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Standing majestically on four sculptural bird-form feet with caryatid figures on each corner supporting the structure, this cabinet represents an exceptional example of Indo-Portuguese craftsmanship. Also known as a contador, this type of cabinet blends the traditionally Western form of a standing cabinet with decoration and elements of design that contain both Mughal and Hindu influences. Composed of Indian coromandel wood, it is inlaid with ivory tinted in multiple colours, notably green, which has been particularly associated with Mughal-inspired Gujarati designs and colouring. This area, along the Western coastal region of India was a well-known centre of production for ivory-inlaid articles aimed at Western markets.
The ivory inlay decoration on this cabinet is exceptionally fine, with a detailed and fluid composition. The frontal drawers each feature a vegetal scrolling design with serpent-head terminals. The faces on each corner are evocative of the allegorical figures representing the winds on European maps. This interesting mix of themes and motifs continues on to the large rectangular panels supporting the cabinet which are highlighted by naginas at each corner. These mermaid-like creatures, with their entwining tails, are indigenous snake divinities that are considered to bring good fortune and protection. Similar, sculptural naginas adorn a pulpit in the Igreja de Varca in Salsete, Goa (M.M de Cagigal e Silva, A Arte Indo-Portugesa, edicoes excelsior, 1966, p.203, fig.115).The design to the top and sides of the cabinet further incorporates images of frontally-facing lions, symbols of royalty and power.
The faces of the corner caryatid figures and of the central nagina are carved from solid ivory, an extremely precious material. It has been suggested that these were carved by Chinese craftsmen working in Goa or could have come as a special commission from the Chinese ivory workshops in Macau. These figures stand above four winged birds which resemble those on an elegant contador dated to the seventeenth century now in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, inv. no. 1416. It is interesting to draw a link between these and bird-form foot stands that adorn other contadors such as those on one in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 781-1865), which have been compared to representations of jatayu, a demi-god in the form of a vulture who played a central role in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana (Jaffer, A., Luxury Goods from India, London, 2002, pp.56-57, no.21).
Notable for its sumptuous appearance and the exotic materials which adorn it, this important cabinet is also notable for its royal provenance. Its provenance is further attested by a brass inventory plaque with the initials F.R. which refer to Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who married Maria II da Gloria, Queen of Portugal and the Algarves in Lisbon on the 9th of April 1836. Their youngest daughter, Antonia, married into the Hohenzollern family, becoming Antonia Fürstin von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, and brought with her to Sigmaringen Castle many Portuguese furnishings and decorative objects.
The present cabinet can be compared to a small collection of cabinets found in the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm which had originally been commissioned from India in 1580 by Baron Clas Felming and his wife Ebba Stembock (M.M.E. Marcos, Marfiles de las provincias ultramarinas orientales de Espana y Portugal, Monterrey, 1997, pp.328-329). The demand for such works from prestigious royal clients is further attested by another example of a seventeenth-century Indian cabinet decorated with crowned bicephalous-eagles associated with the Habsburgs.