Ivory Double-Pipe Case
Mid 17th Century
Ivory, Wood, Mica
H:6.5 x W:5.7 x L:52.0 cm
This object, made in 17th Century Sri Lanka, was one of the highest quality pieces of its era created for export to Europe, during a period where ivory carving items were highly sought after by Europeans.
Made from wood and surrounded with Ivory panels inlaid with Mica to reflect light better, this item intrigued me because not only did it boast incredible craftsmanship, but also because of the motifs and art styles used in its design.
The object is decorated with a repeating pattern of scrolling leaves and flowers, a common aspect of South Asian design, whilst also encasing them within geometric borders and carvings of winged cherubs, which are aspects of 17th Century European Baroque design. The object also contains a Lion at the top, a common motif between Dutch and Sinhalese cultures, while the lotus decoration at the bottom is a clear Buddhist symbol.
This item fascinated me as it was a high quality example of a marriage of European and Asian art styles during the colonial period. It is interesting to see how artists and craftsmen were able to integrate European designs and art styles into their work in order to appeal to their intended foreign market, while preserving the Asian aspects of the region, creating a unique hybrid product.
I also found this object interesting as it offered an insight into trade in the 17th Century, when Sri Lanka was an independent Sinhalese kingdom engaging with trade with the Portugese and Dutch. The object was created to house a smoking pipe, likely of the tobacco variety (Opium smoking would only becoming widespread 2 centuries later) which was popularized and spread to Asia by the Portugese and Dutch during this era – suggesting that craftsmen during this era were creating items specifically to cater to European markets and capitalize on the massive demand of carved Asian Ivory wares, as well as creating wares around new concepts and activities introduced by trade with Europe.
It is this innovation of adapting to foreign trade and ability to create such a high quality hybrid artstyle and product, that makes this object truly fascinating to me.