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Sri Lankan Ivory Comb with Polychrome

Sri Lanka
17th-18th century

height: 10.4cm: width: 5.5cm, weight: 31g



UK art market

This comb is carved from a single piece of ivory. It is carved on both sides with each side being the mirror image of the other.

The pierced central panel has been finely carved to show the goddess Lakshmi (on both sides and with beautifully carved faces) who sits with her legs crossed and holding sprays of foliage in both hands. The goddess has ample breasts, jewellery and a striped dhoti.

The central panel has an upper and lower border decorated in relief with pairs of elephants separated by a flower in one case and a leafy flourish in the other. The pairs of elephants are further confirmation that the deity shown is Lakshmi who is often shown in South India and Sri Lanka with elephant pairs.

Traces of the original red and green polychrome are present, most notably on the dhoti of Lakshmi, which is coloured red on one side of the comb and green on the other.

This comb is interesting for its near perfect condition, and for the remnants of pigment which are still visible. Few Sri Lankan ivory combs from this period are as well preserved. (For example, see here a related comb is in the Victoria & Albert Museum.)

The comb relates to others that found their way into the ‘cabinets of curiosities’ of Europe’s royalty and aristocracy in the 18th century and earlier.

The comb here is in a fine, stable condition. There is some shallow, age-related cracking which is typical of old ivory. One outer prong is slightly shortened as a consequence. All other prongs are present and full. The ivory itself has a superb, shiny patina.


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

Gundestrap, B., The Royal Danish Kunstkammer 1737, Volume 1, Nationalmuseet, 1991.

Jacquot, C., et al, Les Ivoires, Tardy, 1977.

Jordan, A., & J. Beltz, Elfenbeine aus Ceylon: Luxusguter fur Katharina von Habsburg (1507-1578), Museum Rietberg, 2010.

Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, Masterpieces of Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, Leiden, 2013.

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.

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