Inventory no.: 1035

Indo-Portugese Desk Cabinet


Indo-Portuguese Ivory-Inlaid Rosewood Front-Fall Desk Cabinet

Western India

circa 1700

length: 20cm, width: 14.4cm, height: 12.9cm

Portable front-fall cabinets such as this example were designed to hold small items such as writing utensils and other personal effects of Portuguese and other Europeans officials and merchants who lived and travelled in India. Cabinets of this type belong to one of the earliest groups of furniture commissioned in India by Portuguese patrons. Cabinets such as these were produced in Western India in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although of Western form, cabinets such as these came to be used by members of the Indian elite too (Jaffer, 2002).

This example is of Indian Rosewood (

Dalbergia Latifolia) a durable hardwood ideal for use in an items meant to be transported. It is inlaid with ivory strips and plaques that have been etched with geometric designs and has brass ring handles, draw pulls and hinges.

The front door, which is fitted with a lock (the key is now missing), falls down to reveal one wide upper drawer and two smaller drawers beneath, the fronts of which are decorated with ivory veneer sheets. The fall front is a defining feature of such cabinets.

The box is in its un-restored condition – one of the loop handles is out of shape, there are losses to some of the ivory inlay and also to the brass mounts, most particularly the key plate which is missing.

An Indo-Portuguese rosewood writing box with similar ivory inlay was offered as Lot 580 in Bonham’s London, ‘Islamic & Indian Art’, April 28, 2005.


UK art market.


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; Jaffer, A., Luxury Goods from India: The Art of the Indian Cabinet Maker, V&A Publications, 2002; Bonham’s London, ‘Islamic & Indian Art’, April 28, 2005; and Moura Carvalhi, P., Luxury for Export, Gutenberg Periscope Publishing, 2008.

Inventory no.: 1035