Cingalo-Portuguese Art, A Rare Colonial Singhalese Or Cingalo-Portuguese Carved Coconut Box, Probably Kandy, Ceylon, Circa 17th-18th Century.

Identification Number: 181


This extremely rare and fine Cingalo-Portuguese carved coconut box with silver mounts, silver lion head shaped handles and claw feet is a great survival of Sri Lankan art dedicated for European, particularly the Portuguese market. The consecutive colonial powers in Sri Lanka (the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British) commissioned the making of various works of art using local resources in their colonised territories in India and South Asia, including precious metals such as gold and silver. They used precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds and Pearls, and semi precious stones such as jade, rock crystal, turquoise, agate, etc., in the decoration. They also used durable natural resources such as ivory, narwhal tusks, animal horns (particularly Rhinoceros), various types of shells including nautilus, mother of pearl, and parts of exotic insects, birds, animals and plants such as gourds, cocoa du mere and various shapes of coconuts, as used in our lot.
Sri Lanka is well known for the great size of their orange king coconut. (cocos nucifera ‘king’), is a variety of Coconut native to Sri Lanka where it is known as Thembili.
The carving in our lot comprises various figural and floral designs with lion’s head handles with lion feet profusely carved over its entirety in Buddhist lore and floral scrolls. The silver hinge, lock, escutcheon and mounts are all entirely hand made in outstanding detail. There are tiny rivets in the shape of flowers holding the mounts and even the nuts attaching the feet to the inside of the box are hand crafted and decorated. The key is present and opens the box.

The focus in our present lot is on the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi also spelt Laksmi or Shri flanked by two elephants. This image is considered to be one of the most enduring representations of Lakshmi. The most popular motif in which she figures is the Gajalakshmi or spelt Gaja-Laksmi, the representation of the goddess sitting on a lotus flower while two elephants holding pots and pouring water over her hands.
The depiction of goddess Lakshmi is very common in both Buddhism and Hinduism and been used in India as well as in early Sri-Lankan art.
Lakshmi is considered to be the goddess of wealth, love, prosperity (both material and spiritual) fortune and the embodiment of beauty.

Examples of related images and decoration can be seen at the ancient city of Anuradhapura and at the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the tooth, Kandy).

Also the depiction of five warriors is carved on the back, two with bows, two with swords and one on horseback. The lion’s feet and heads seem to be of strong European Regency style and European neo-classical influence. The appearances of lions in Sinhalese (lit. lion people) art is well documented and do not usually appear in this form. This design of ring handles clasped firmly in the mouth of a lion’s head was also used in European architectural and other works of art in the French Empire style from around 1760. It is worth mentioning that the lion in the Indian subcontinent mythology is always associated with royalty, power and high status.

1- For other carved Singalo-portugeses coconuts examples, please see: EXOTICA, The Portuguese Discoveries and Renaissance, Kunstkammer, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 2002, lots 85 & 86 p.202-204.
2- For Sri Lankan design and ornaments please see:- Medieval Singhalese Art, by Ananda k. Coomaraswamy, the depiction of Goddess Laskshmi image No.1 woodwork (Plate IX) also figures 33, 34, 38 & 64 p.94-108.
3- For other Sri Lankan motives and designs, please see Sri Lanka, Ancient Arts, by J. E. Van Lohuizen de Leeuw, Professor of Indian and South East Asian Art and Archeology, university of Amsterdam, Commonwealth Institute London, 17th July – 13th September 1981, please see lots 89 p.89, and lots 106 & 107, p.105-106.

Condition: The entire Box is in superb condition, there appears to be no cracks in the shell and the lid closes tightly. The mounts show no signs of repair and the key and lock operate and open and close the box.

Dimensions:- 21 cm width.
13 cm high.