This twelve-sided ceremonial tray or talum was used in Thailand most typically on or near an altar with a Buddha image to hold offerings of fruit, flowers or garlands of flowers. It might also have been used to resent gifts such as new robes to a senior monk. Indeed the unusual use of glass inlay suggests that the talum was commissioned for use in a monastery or perhaps a palace (Byachrananda, 2001, pp. 126-7, illustrates several examples with glass mosaic from the Royal Household.)
It has a black lacquer exterior and a bright cinnabar-red lacquer interior. The exterior is decorated with finely-cut mother-of-pearl inlay and thin pieces of glass backed with green and silver foil. The glass inlay is enhanced with fine mother-of-pearl borders. Most such examples are inlaid with mother-of-pearl only. The substrate is likely to be of woven bamboo.
Typically, the shells (turbo and trochus) from which the shell inlay used in Thai mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer work came from the coral reefs along the coast of Phuket and Surat Thani Provinces in the south of Thailand, and Chanthaburi and Trat Provinces of the east. Thrones for kings and palace and temple doors were among the larger items lacquered and inlaid with pearl shell. During the early Bangkok period (1782-1824), mother-of-pearl inlay work was so popular that high-ranking members of the royal family were appointed to oversee its production in a bureau known as ‘the Department of Mother-of-Pearl Inlay’ (McGill, 2009, p. 200). But by the end of the nineteenth century, the art form started to lose its popularity as Western styles came more into vogue. The Department was closed down in 1926.
The example here has a fine patina and obvious age. There are losses here and there to the inlay and flaking to the lacquer about the foot. But the talum is highly decorative and in a stable condition.
Byachrananda, J., Thai Mother-of-Pearl Inlay, River Books, 2001.
McGill, F. (ed.), Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma, 1775-1950, Asian Art Museum, 2009.
Warren, W., The Prasart Museum: Treasures of Thailand, Ibis Books, 1990.
Warren, W., & L. Invernizzi Tettoni, Arts and Crafts of Thailand, Thames & Hudson, 1994.