Inventory no.: 2885

Christian Indian Ivory


Carved Ivory Indian Madonna & Child Ivory


18th century

height: 11.7cm, width: 7.3cm

This unusual carving of solid ivory shows a sari-clad woman breast-feeding an infant in a pose that is highly suggestive of an Indian representation of the Madonna with the infant Jesus. The group is of solid ivory on an attached square ivory sheet

Further confirmation of the identity of the group is suggested by a small hall to the top of the female’s figure’s head into which either a metal crown or halo would have been fitted. This is typical of Indian Christian ivories; usually the halos or crowns are lost.

This ivory can be seen in the context of the genre of Chinese representations of the goddess Guanyin which metamorphis into the Christian Madonna and Child (for example, see Flores et al, 1998, p. 336).

The Mary figure wears prominent floral earrings, multiple bracelets in a style common among Hindu ladies, and a broad necklace.

Traces of black colouring are to be found on the hair of both Mary and the infant. Remnants of red monochrome are in some of the folds on Mary’s dress.

The Mary figure is seated with one leg up and the other dangling down on a traditional Indian drum-shaped reed stool known as a

morha. Jaffer (2001, p. 394) comments that ‘whereas before the arrival of Europeans in the sub-continent Indians probably sat on drum-shaped cane stools (morhas) cross-legged, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pictures indicate that by then they sometimes sat with their legs hanging over the seat.’ In this regard, the ivory here seems to be a compromise between the Western and traditional Indian styles of sitting! Jaffer further notes that morhas were first recorded in English estate inventories in 1756.

The ivory group is without chips or restoration. Four small holes at each corner of the underside of the ivory square sheet on which the group is mounted suggest that the group once had four small feet, probably ball feet, attached.


Bailey, A., J.M. Massing & N. Vassallo e Silva, Marfins no Imperio Portugues/Ivories in the Portuguese Empire, Scribe, 2013.

Flores, J.M.

et al, Os Constructores do Oriente Portugues, Comissao Nacional para as Comemoracoes dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 1998.

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.


UK art market

Inventory no.: 2885