Ebony with abalone inlay
- End 17th century
92 x 47 x 38 cms.
The earliest written references to inlay work from Vizagapatam appear in the mid eighteenth century. Although it is not known precisely how this technique first came to be applied to western-style furniture, such a fusion occurred in the immediate vicinity, where there existed firmly established mechanism for the production of textiles suited to western taste. The Europeans might have provided inspiration for the initial production of inlaid furniture at Vizagapatam, which reflects both the influence of German ivory inlay and designs on textiles produced locally for the European market.
The Northern Circars, the region to which Vizagapatam belonged, yielded extremely fine ebony and it is believed that Abalone was imported from South Asia for the purpose of this chair.
An earlier example of the use of Abalone can be seen in the Ranjini Mahal at Bidar, 1543-80. In this case the Abalone was inlayed on basalt. Although this building predates our chair it is apparent that the technique of Abalone inlay work continued.
The frame of the chair is carved and inlaid with abalone with scrolling vines and leaves. This pattern is derived from the flowering motifs used in Mughal miniature borders and textile design. The chair has a cane seat and back. The shape of the seat is a trapezoid while an inlaid splat divides the back into two halves which gives the chair symmetrical design.
The ebony inlaid front legs which terminate in scrolling feet are joined to each other, as are the rear legs, with a turned rail. The stretcher is connected with two blocks which are inlaid with abalone on all sides.
This is the only chair we know off inlaid with abalone manufactured in India which has survived.
For a related example, but with ivory inlay
Vizagaparam 1960 - 1710 Raynham Hall, Norfolk, Country Life Picture Library
References: 'Furniture from British India & Ceylon', 'Treasure from India', 'The Artificial Empire', & 'Silent Splendour' fig.5, page 119