Lot 214
  • 214

A Highly important ivory-inlaid Indo-Portuguese cabinet of Royal Provenance, Goa, India, late 17th century

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • cormandel wood, ivory, metal
comprising three sections, the upper part fitted with eight short drawers and a combined deep drawer in the centre, decorated on the top and sides with etched and stained ivory inlay to form scrolling foliate tendrils with figures of naginas to each corner and lion-heads, the frontal drawers with a design of scrolling tendrils issuing serpent heads and with frontal human faces on each corner, the middle, rectangular section with two long drawers with similar designs to front and sides, the stand with two hinged doors and large compartments between a sculpted nagina, raised on legs sculpted as winged animals supporting four corner caryatid figures, with a similar design of serpent-head tendrils and naginas with entwined tails to each corner, back plain, brass plaque to reverse of upper section inscribed 'F.R.', old collection label under base, piece includes three keys.


Queen Maria da Gloria of Portugal and the Algarves (1819-1853) and Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1816-85), King Consort of Portugal under the name of Ferdinand II (1837-53) and Regent of the Kingdom of Portugal (1853-55)

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 overall very good condition, few minor scuffs and scratches consistent with age, top and left and right-hand sides each have a thin crack line running between inlays possibly as result of shrinkage, few minor pieces of wood and ivory inlay missing, as viewed.
"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.

Catalogue Note

This rare and extraordinary cabinet has passed through the hands of three very distinguished royal houses of Europe, Braganza, Saxe-Coburg, and Hohenzollern. Dating to the 17th century, it was most likely a special commission for the Portuguese Royal family and later found its way to Schloss Sigmaringen, the seat of the family of the Fürsten von Hohenzollern.

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.