Exceptional Woven Cane Jewellery Basket with Silver Mounts (Vel-pettiya)
Kandy, Sri Lanka
length: 22cm, width: 18cm, height: 14cm
This cane basket, called a vel-pettiya, with cast, engraved silver mounts belongs to a group of such baskets produced in the Kingdom of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. They were made for members of the Kandyan aristocracy and were used to store jewellery and keepsakes. This example, however, is the finest example we have seen. The silver mounts are exceptional.
The basket is made from two types of tightly woven cane over a wooden base. The silver mounts comprise an elaborate lock cover and hinge, a foliate back hinge, two side hooks and associated eyelets, and a lid finial in the shape of an elephant. The elephant is a probable reference to the importance of elephants in Kandy: a large tusker carries the Buddha tooth relic during the annual procession of the Sacred Tooth. During the procession, the tusker walks on a long white cloth spread before it, accompanied by singers, musicians, and the
Diyawadana Nilame (the Custodian of the Tooth Relic).
The lock is a bar lock (
narissa yatura) and is in the style of a 16th-17th century Portuguese lock used on a trunk or reliquary box. (see Jordan & Beltz, 2010, p. 119 for a 16th century ivory box made for the Portuguese market which has a similar style lock and lock cover.) The hasp is in the form of an arm and hand. The rest of the lock is exquisitely chased with scrolling leaf and floral work.
The basket sits on three wooden spherical feet.
Similar baskets but with less elaborate mounts were produced in Indonesia. It is possible that colonial Portuguese and Dutch administrators introduced this form to Indonesia from the Kandyan Kingdom in the eighteenth century.
The condition of the basket is excellent – there are no apparent losses to the cane-ware and the silver is all intact. No longer is there a key however.
See Coomaraswamy (1956, plate XLIIIA) for an example of a
vel-pettiya with brass mounts. Other examples are in the National Museum in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Coomaraswamy, A.K., Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, Pantheon Books, 1956 reprint of the 1908 edition.
Jordan, A., & J. Beltz,
Elfenbeine aus Ceylon: Luxusguter fur Katharina von Habsburg (1507-1578), Museum Rietberg, 2010.Provenance:
UK art market
Inventory no.: 3122
An example with brass fittings in the collection of the National Museum of Kandy, Sri Lanka. Photographed in 2011.