A carved ivory casket




North India


Late 19th century




Ivory, silver, steel


Length 435 mm; width 172 mm; height 160 mm

The oblong rectangular casket consists of a slightly convex hinged lid and a corps that are assembled of ivory panels. The lid and side panels of the corps are skillfully carved in the low relief with various floral motifs and genre scenes within rectangular frames. All scenes are probably portrayed episodes of Indian history or the customer's family history. The complicated multi-figure central scene on the upper side of the lid is carved in a high and openwork relief. Four legs at the corners of the casket base are carved as lions and interconnected by long narrow plates with a pierced ornament and scalloped edges that are attached under the side faces of the base. The original hinges and key are made of silver, whereas the lock is steel.

COMMENT. The presented example belongs to a small series of Indian jewellery caskets carved from ivory. Some of them can be seen nowadays in Western museums and private collections. Caskets are very similar to each other in size, design and style. Their common features are carved legs in the form of various animals, long narrow plates under the side faces of the base that pierced with the identical ornament, as well as silver fittings. Apparently, all the caskets were made in the late 19th century in North India in the same workshop. The most likely manufacturer of these magnificent caskets is Lala Faqir Chand, a prominent ivory carver from Delhi. A very similar casket shown at the Delhi Exhibition of 1903 and entered its official catalogue (see Watt, G. Indian Art at Delhi, 1903: Being the Official Catalogue of the Delhi Exhibition, 1902-1903. – Calcutta, 1903. – Pl. 43). Another striking example of this style, but with miniature paintings inserted, can now be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (inv. no. IS.2-1957). It is believed that it was made by Lala Faqir Chand about 1880 (see Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857 / Edited by W. Dalrymple and Y. Sharma. – New York & New Haven, 2012. – P. 193, no. 96). For some other similar examples, see Jaffer, A. Furniture from British India and Ceylon. A Catalogue of the Collections in the Victoria and Albert Museums and the Peabody Essex Museum. – London, 2001. – P. 274-280, nos. 98-103.