5416

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Sri Lankan Brass Model of a Kandyan Noble

Sri Lanka
19th century

height: 26cm, weight: 1,364g

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Provenance

UK art market

This is a formal portrait of a young Kandyan noble man, standing in an erect pose befitting his social class. It has been cast in brass and further decorated with chiselling and engraving.

The costume is that of a noble and these show obvious 17th century Portuguese influence, particularly the short jacket and the shoulder covering. The costume was also designed to make the wearer seem far fatter than he actually was – and so prosperous and unsuitable for (and unsuited to) any form of manual labour or exertion.  The hat became traditional among the nobles but its form seems based on that of the biretta, the hat traditionally worn by the Jesuits and other members of the Latin clergy.

His hair is piled behind him and tied in a small bun. He wears ring with a large bezel and holds a kerchief further suggesting an appropriately effete countenance. His face is expressionless which accords with an effected indifference to the worldly.

His garb is richly and varyingly decorated. There are bold chequerboard designs and a cummerbund incised with Kandynn foliate scrollwork.

The feet are bare and this seems to accord with 18th and 19th century norms of Kandyan aristocratic dress judging from photographs of such nobles from the second half of the 19th century.

A related image of a Kandyan chief is in the Norton Simon Museum (see Pal, 2004, p. 62 for an illustration.) It is of similar dimensions and style but perhaps not as well cast. It is a given a dating of 17th-18th century, which seems ambitious.

The figure here stands on a small brass platform decorated with lotus petals. It is in excellent condition, and provides a useful and accurate testimony as to the dress of the nobles in 19th century central Sri Lanka.

References

Pal, P., Art from Sri Lanka & Southeast Asia: Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Yale University Press, 2004.

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