Rare Set of Hand Scales with carved Bone Mounts
Kandy, Sri Lanka
18th-19th century or earlier
The set of hand scales appears to be extremely rare. We are unaware of any published equivalents. Probably, given their quality and decoration, the scales were used to weigh gems or some other high-value, low-weight good. Sri Lanka has been an important international source of gems such as blue and pink sapphires for centuries.
Ptolemy, the 2nd century Greek astronomer, recorded that beryl and sapphire were sourced from what is now known as Sri Lanka, and Persian traders crossed the Indian Ocean in the 4th and 5th centuries to acquire ‘jewels from Serendib’, the name they gave to the island.
The scales are of carved bone attached to a thin ebony mount to give the bone support, and gilded metal pans. The carving is typically Sri Lankan and not unlike the carving seen on ivory chests, combs and other luxury goods produced for the local and European export markets in the Kingdom of Kotte during the 16th century.
The crossbar is carved with a pair of addorsed sacred goose (
hamsa) figures. The cross bar is suspended from beneath the legs of a squat dwarf figure. This figure is not unlike the dwarf figures carved into steps and other architectural features at Anuradhapura, an ancient capital of Sri Lanka, and elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. The bone has remnants of colouring.
The bone has some old, minor age- or shrinkage-related cracking and a shiny, yellow patina. There are no losses.
Coomaraswamy, A.K., Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, Pantheon Books, 1956 reprint of the 1908 edition.
The Royal Danish Kunstkammer 1737, Volume 1, Nationalmuseet, 1991.
Jordan, A., & J. Beltz,
Elfenbeine aus Ceylon: Luxusguter fur Katharina von Habsburg (1507-1578), Museum Rietberg, 2010.
de Silva, P.H.D.H.,
A Catalogue of Antiquities and Other Cultural Objects from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) Abroad, National Museums of Sri Lanka, 1975.Provenance:
UK art market
Inventory no.: 2893
A mythical dwarf figure carved in stone (on the left) from Kaverippakkam, Tamil Nadu, photographed in the Government Museum in Chennai, South India, December 2014. It has similarities with the dwarf figure carved on the scales here.