Inventory no.: 1553

Vietnamese Mother-of-Pearl Rosewood Tray


Large Christian Mother-of-Pearl Inlaid Rosewood Tray


19th century

length: 57.5cm, width: 35.5cm, height: 5cm

This large, oval tray is a rare and unusual piece of cultural cross-over art. Mother-of-pearl inlaid rosewood crucifixes from colonial Vietnamese sometimes are encountered but this is the most overt depiction of a Christian theme in Vietnamese mother-of-pearl inlay work that we have seen. Secular works typically comprise opium pipe bowl stands and trays used to hold an opium set.

It is of East Asian rosewood (

Dalbergia latifolia). It is inlaid with mother-of-pearl that has been engraved with blackened highlights and shows an elaborate representation of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome as well as Saint Peter’s Square and the bordering colonnades by Bernini. Various figures in period costume arr in the foreground. Shrubbery has been added to the scene perhaps to depict the Basilica’s gardens although the artist clearly did not understand the types of trees and shrubs that should be depicted and instead has shown semi-tropical bamboos, plum trees and maples. An outer border shows various types of melons and gourds with associated tendrils interspersed by butterflies or moths. An inscription also in the foreground reads: ‘Vue de l’Eglise de St Pierre a Rome,’ (View of the Church of St Peter in Rome).

The rim of the tray is decorated with a key-fret and floral border. The exterior rim is further decorated with floral sprays. It sits on four short wooden legs.

Mother-of-pearl inlaid rosewood of this type frequently is mis-identified as being from China. It is in fact from Vietnam. Confirmation of this comes from the inscription: it is not in English or Latin but in French, the language of colonial Vietnam.

Overall the tray is in good condition particularly for its age. Some small pieces of inlay have been replaced. The tray is slightly warped and some shrinkage-related minor cracking to the edges have been infilled but the tray is visually very striking for its size, completeness and the Oriental treatment of an otherwise Western European scene.


from a Spanish/Portuguese private collection

Inventory no.: 1553