5919

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Rare, Sri Lankan Chased Silver Ritual Conch Casing

Sri Lanka
18th century

length: 15.7cm, width (when closed): 7cm, weight: 155g

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Provenance

UK art market

This beautiful silver case for a Buddhist ritual conch shell is the only such example from Sri Lanka that we have seen. We are not aware of examples that have been published.  An example attributed to 17th century India (but more likely from Sri Lanka) of similar proportions but made of gold and set with gems is illustrated in Keene (2001, p. 144).

The example here comprises two  rounded, pear-shaped halves that are hinged on one side. There is a latch on the other side. The borders of each half are very finely chased with beautiful scrollwork with pairs of addorsed hamsas or sacred swans in the corners with their necks entwined (hamsa puttuva). The case terminates with an elegant bud-like finial that has been chased with rows of petals each chased with a leafy motif.

The chasing work is typically Sri Lankan thus allowing for a definite Sri Lankan attribution to this example.

Conch shells are important ritual objects in both Buddhism and Hinduism. They are used as ceremonial trumpets in prayer rituals. (The final image is of a segment of a wall painting at Potgul Magila Vihara monastery, central Sri Lanka, showing a pilgrim with a trumpet shell horn.)

The case here is in fine condition. Part of the latch is now missing although the casing still snaps shut in any event. Part of the fine hinge tubing is missing and a small section of granulation work that runs around the casing near the finial is now missing. But these losses are peripheral. Overall, the casing, is elegant, rare, and sculptural. Its quality and rarity make this a museum-quality piece.

References

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

Keene, M., Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals – The Al-Sabah Collection Kuwait National Museum, Thames & Hudson, 2001.

Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, Alexandria Press, 1997.

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