5540

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Finely Carved Colonial Javanese Wooden Christian Prayer Table

Jepara, Java, Indonesia (Dutch East Indies)
circa 1870-90

height: 79.5cm, depth: 72cm, width: 57cm

Reserved

Provenance

UK art market; almost certainly has been in the UK since colonial times.

This carved wooden table is for private prayer. The work is most likely from Jepara, the north coast of Java.

It is of striking form, with six flared legs, a kneeling bar, and a top that is hinged and lifts up, it is elaborately carved and pierced all over with both Christian and traditional Indo-Javanese iconography. As such, it is a remarkable and unusual example of cross-cultural arts.

The top is carved in relief with a pair of standing male peacocks with tails open and a pair of peacocks in flight, all between which there is carved a prominent Christian Cross. All this is amid scrolling flowering shrubbery.  (Traditionally, in  Christian iconography, the peacock was associated with Paradise, and immortality. Often peacocks are depicted next to the Tree of Life.)

The sides comprise pierced panels. The first two on either side are carved with the Cross. The others are carved with peacocks, again, all amid carved and pierced foliate and foliage scrolls.

Each leg is decorated with piercing and carved as a snake or serpent. This iconography is typically Indo-Javanese but can also be seen as an allusion to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, particularly with all the extravagant, lush foliage that has been carved into most surfaces of the table.

The condition of the table here is very good. There are no significant losses or repairs. There are some old shrinkage-related crack to one side panel.

References

Chong, A. (ed.), Christianity in Asia: Sacred Art and Visual Splendour, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2016.

Jaffer, A., Furniture from British India and Ceylon: A Catalogue of the Collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum, Timeless Books, 2001.

Westerkamp, P., Tropenmuseum, Pers. comm.

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