Late 16th Century Sadeli Inlaid Coin Cabinet, Gujarat or Sindh


Rectangular coin cabinet with five drawers, ebony veneered with Sadeli inlays in tropical wood, ivory, green stained ivory and brass, with shield-shaped vents and carrying handles on the sides.
Indo-Portuguese work, Gujarat or Sindh, western India, late 16th century.

Travel coins of this type were designed to hold documents and personal belongings and were a basic requirement for European merchants who lived and traveled in Asia.
This piece belongs to one of the first identifiable groups of furniture made in India under Portuguese patronage in the 16th century. The production of such furniture was based in western India, a longtime center of luxury goods in which there were firmly established merchant communities from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Far East and Europe. Contemporary reports differ regarding the exact place of manufacture of these items, perhaps suggesting that there were several centers in western India that worked with shared styles and production methods. Francisco Pelsaert noted in 1626 that in Tatta, Sindh, “ornamental desks, drawing boards, writing boxes and similar objects are locally manufactured in large quantities; they are very gracefully inlaid with ivory and ebony and were exported in large quantities to Goa and the coastal cities. ”
In the late 17th century, Captain Cope in a letter confirmed that in Tatta “They make beautiful ivory inlaid ebony cabinets.” The English traveler William Finch in the early 17th century cited the nearby Gujarat region as an important center of refined inlaid furniture. Another English traveler Around 1626, Sir Thomas Herbert, wrote that in Surat, an important port in Gujarat, it was possible to buy “scrutores or cabbinets” of ebony, ivory and mother of pearl.

Whatever their exact manufacturing site, it is clear that objects of this type have been made in large numbers in western India and have been sold both locally and in
Europe, where their exotic materials and decorations were highly valued. As for
other goods destined for Europe, these items were often exchanged through Goa.

The decorative technique called “Sadeli mosaic” is a type of micro mosaic characterized by repeated geometric patterns. A highly specialized craft that has had a long history in India and the Middle East with the first examples dating back to the 16th century.
The ancient art of Sadeli mosaic is said to have been introduced from Shiraz to Persia through Sind in Bombay, long before the Indian boxes appeared. The designs on the first boxes seem deceptively simple. The fact is that they emerged from a culture that had dominated geometry and understood how to generate a model from a certain number of points. The models are so harmoniously combined that their incredible complexity is not immediately evident to the viewer.

Similar models are found in the V&A Museum in London.


H 20.5 cm
L 30 cm
P cm 24

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