Enquiry about object: 2739

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    Fine, Painted Ivory Ayurvedic Medicine Jar & Cover

    Sri Lanka
    18th century

    diameter: 5.8cm, height: 3.2cm, weight: 54g



    UK art market

    – scroll down to see further images –

    This beautiful round box and lid is of ivory which has taken on a deep honeyed colour from age and use. The colour is such that the box might be mistaken for having been made from wood.

    It has been turned with a low ring foot, and has a lid with a small button finial at the top. The base and cover have been lightly engraved with circular lines that have been highlighted with lac. Additional over-painting in red enamel is in spiral and geometric motifs.

    In Sri Lanka, containers for Ayurvedic medicines often were made of precious materials such as ivory and were finely decorated and carefully repaired when damaged. They were designed to fit into the medical practitioner’s pouch and so often developed a superb patina, as is the case with the example here.

    Traditional medical practice in Sri Lanka was a combination of Ayurvedic medicine (an ancient Indian medical practice) and Buddhist practice.

    Pal (1981, p 101) illustrates a model of a Sri Lankan stupa (dagoba) attributed to the 18th century which shows similar red over-painting as on this piece, but without the rich patina.

    The box here is in fine condition. The ivory has a wonderful colour and the cross-hatched grain that is characteristic of elephant ivory is much evident. There are some minor rubbing losses to the lac and paint decoration and very minor, old nibbles to the edge of the foot ring, but overall, given the age and the material used to make this item, it is a splendid, rare piece.

    The last image shows a related example displayed in the British Museum.


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

    Pal, P., Elephants and Ivories in South Asia, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981.

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