Enquiry about object: 6704

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    Exceptional Sri Lankan Colonial Coromandel (Calamander) Wood Box

    Sri Lanka
    circa late 18th century

    width: 34.9cm, height: 13.3cm, depth: 24.7cm, weight: 3,092g



    UK art market

    – scroll down to see further images –

    The rectangular box has been made in Sri Lanka, probably on the Galle district on the southern coast, from exquisitely grained calamander (also known as coromandel) wood. The sides of the box are crenulated or scalloped, a design that most probably was introduced by the Dutch in the early 18th century when they commissioned Bible boxes with similar scalloped edging.

    The form of this box is early 19th century, but the exquisite carving, most obviously on the hinged lid, is an exact copy of the intricate, interlocking scrolling foliate vine work done on ivory boxes and domed jewel chests produced in Sri Lanka in the 18th century for export markets. Such an example is illustrated in Coomaraswamy (1908, pl. XXXVI).

    It is the only Sri Lankan wooden box of which we are aware that has been carved with this ‘ivory’ vine design and as such seems to be a link between the ivory boxes produced in the of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the work boxes carved from wood which came later.

    The interior is fitted with a tray that lifts out and which is divided into compartments, each with its own lid with a ring pull and carved in a similar manner as the outside cover (one cover is a replacement.)

    There is a lock, but no longer a key.

    Such boxes were for the export market and were used by genteel European ladies as hobbyist work boxes to hold sewing equipment.

    The example here has minor losses to the bottom edges, as well as the aforementioned replaced ring-pull cover inside. These imperfections are perhaps outweighed by the considerable scarcity of the box.


    Coomaraswamy, A.K., Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, Pantheon Books, 1956 reprint of the 1908 edition.

    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.

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