This very unusual box – most probably a tea caddy – comprises an ostrich egg, with silver mounts, that rests on three walrus tusk or legs. No such item of colonial Indian silver seems to have been published before.
The top third of the egg lifts off and functions as a hinged lid or cover. The opening of the egg is surrounded by silver mounts. The top of the egg also has a star-burst, floral roundel surmounted by a solid cast silver bird finial. The cover and base are secured by means of a small latch.
The tops of the legs are similarly encased in silver.
All the silver mounts are chased with scrolling foliage and flowers in the Islamic-inspired Kutch style associated with late 19th century Kutch silverwork.
The legs are placed equidistant around the egg to give it the appearance of a tripod.
The use of walrus ivory and an ostrich egg underscores the close, historic trade and migration links between the west coast of India and the east coast of Africa, as well as the middle east (the Arabian ostrich from the Gulf area was known into the nineteenth century and became extinct in 1966.) Ostrich eggs were prized in Europe since antiquity for use as containers for sacred oils, perfumes, and as drinking vessels (Syndram & Scherner, 2004, p. 87). Ostrich eggs even came to symbolise the Resurrection in medieval cathedrals and many were decorated with silver and gilt mounts accordingly.
The use of the egg here is likely to be purely decorative. The combination of the tusks, the egg and the silver is striking, sculptural and unusual. The egg is in excellent condition. There are no losses to the egg, tusks or silver.
Dehejia, V., Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj, Mapin, 2008.
Syndram, D., & A. Scherner, Princely Splendor: The Dresden Court 1580-1620, The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Electa, 2004.