Visiting Card Case with Trimurti Motif
height: 9.5cm, width: 7cm, weight: 86g
This card case of high-grade silver is very finely repoussed back and front. It is not marked (there is no space where a maker’s mark could readily have been applied), but the quality suggests it is by the famous Cutch silversmith Oomersi Mawji, or by some comparable contemporary.
The case is unusual in that it is decorated with the Islamic-influenced, arabesque-like scrolling floral and leaf patterns typical of Cutch work, but also incorporates a central motif that is identifiably Hindu: a
trimurti perhaps of Shiva, or the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Possibly it is based on the trimurti sculptures at the Elephanta caves near Bombay (Mumbai) which date to between the fifth and eighth centuries AD.
Calling cards were very important to the social rituals of colonial life in India. One was required to participate in ‘the call’ when one arrived in a new settlement either on a posting or even if just visiting. New arrivals would have elaborate calling cards printed and would then make the ‘call’, dressed formally, on each residence of relevance or importance in the new place of posting. It was a prelude to social acceptance and invitations to subsequent dinner parties and similar events. Just as it was mandatory to make ‘the call’ on one’s arrival to a new posting, it was equally as mandatory for those called upon not to receive the would-be guest and to be pronounced as ‘not at home’ even if they were. The visitor simply presented a servant with their calling card which was placed on a silver tray and then they left, making their way to the next residence to repeat the procedure. According to Dehejia (2008) married couples made the call together, bachelors on their own, and unmarried women did so in the company of their local hostess.
Calling cards were printed on expensive, thick paper. They were kept in especially-made carrying cases, usually of silver, to prevent them from becoming soiled. Different types of cases were made across many parts of India. Men tended to carry smaller, thinner cases. Women tended to carry cases that were larger and more elaborate. The case here would have been made for a lady.
Hindu Art, The British Museum Press, 1992.
Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj, Mapin, 2008.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 1387