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Rare Sri Lankan Chased Silver Lidded Box Inset with Semi-Precious Stones

Sri Lanka
19th century

length: 21cm, width: 10.5cm, height: 6.5cm, weight: 542g



private collection, London.

This very fine example of a Kandyan silver box is unusual for the fact that its lid is inset with 33 small semi-precious cabochon stones including citrines or yellow sapphires, peridots, garnets, pink sapphires, amethysts, and pink tourmaline – stones that mostly are found in Sri Lanka. Indeed, it is the only example of Sri Lankan silverware that we have seen that is inset with semi-precious stones.

The box is made of high-grade silver. Its mode of construction suggests an earlier date – perhaps towards the middle of the nineteenth century. The use of semi-precious stones suggests that the box might have been commissioned for or by a Kandyan noble. (The base is engraved with two letters in Sinhala script, those for ‘Sa’ and ‘Va’ – almost certainly initials for the name of the owner.)

The lid is hinged, domed, and tightly fitting. The sides of the box have crenulated corners and are chased with eight scalloped cartouches decorated with flowers and Sri Lankan animals such as mongooses, elephants and a pair of addorsed swans.

The lid a beautifully chased with a central panel and then a border, decorated with interlocking vegetal scrolling typical of Kandyan silversmithing.

The underside of the box is engraved with a dramatic vegetal and floral scrolling interspersed with double-headed bird motifs (bherunda pakshaya).

Such boxes were used by the Kandyan nobility and others to store small items of jewellery, and were also favoured by colonial administrators and their families as keepsakes.

The box has a good weight. It is in excellent condition. All the original stones are intact. Overall, it is a fine, rare piece.


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

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