Plaques (four)

Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), probably Kandy
2nd half of the 16th century
Carved ivory with traces of gilding
6.3 x 15.7 cm;
7 x 16 cm

Two sets of rectangular Ceylonese plaques, probably from an ivory casket, box or other portable cabinet made for export, and finely carved in low-relief. The first pair depicts a hunting scene; one plaque featuring a European – probably a Portuguese huntsman in typical mid-sixteenth century attire (hat, jerkin and loose-fitting chequered trousers) – armed with a bow and arrow alongside a fierce-looking hound with its dog collar and menacing teeth, amidst vegetal scrolls; and the second a heraldic lion or siṃha, the Ceylonese royal device, similarly depicted among flowering scrolls. The second set depicts a makara-headed siṃha on the first plaque on a vegetal scroll ground; and a fully caparisoned elephant on the second (clearly a tusker, which were solely reserved for the Ceylonese kings) trampling over a native Sinhalese man, wearing only the typical loincloth. Only partially visible, the rectangular scenes’ borders are decorated by friezes of undulating stylised floral motifs simply incised into the ivory surface, and which are typical of this production. The present plaques, like the comb , belong to a very small group of similar objects produced in the royal workshops of Ceylon in the second half of the sixteenth century, in a period of Ceylon`s history marked by wars and internal conflict, and which saw the rise and fall of diverse characters as rulers of different kingdoms on the island, where the alternating dominance of South Indian traditions and local Buddhist aesthetics was ever present. The shift from a more Buddhist aesthetic (and decorative repertoire) to a more South Indian artistic tradition is easily seen in the carvings of the present plaques and in similarly decorated objects. Other pieces of this same group, with marked South Indian characteristics and featuring the same type of low-relief carved decoration combined with engraved vegetal scroll friezes, are known, and mention should be made of two caskets with prismatic lids and two rectangular boxes with flat tops, which are similarly modelled after European prototypes. One of the boxes belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (inv. 205-1879), while the other, which once formed part of the collection of King Fernando II (1816-1885), was recently acquired by the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.

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