|Ivory and horn veneered miniature chess table
India, Vizagapatam, circa 1830
An ivory and buffalo horn miniature games table, with an octagonal top supported on a turned horn stand and a quatrefoil base with claw feet to each corner. The top is decorated with four shaped cartouches, each engraved with a different animal. The edge is fitted with ivory panels, engraved with floral meanders. On the table is a complete set of miniature white and stained red ivory chessmen.
The history of the city of Vizagapatam, on the Coromandel coast between Madras and Calcutta, was influenced by the British, the Dutch and the Portuguese. Although this foreign influence was predominantly through trade, there was also an exchange in methods of production and craftsmanship, particularly with regard to textiles and furniture. These British and European trade expansions in India led to a desire to obtain western furniture. Traditional Indian furniture was rare and expensive, and both the climate and insects were hard on wood and veneers. The resulting lack of availability of European furniture led to settlers commissioning western style furniture from Indian craftsmen, who copied most of their production from European designs. After the Dutch East India Company established a cabinet making workshop there in the late 17th century, Vizagapatams fame for furniture production grew. The style developed in Vizagapatam is known for its intricate and delicate ivory inlay and veneers, often on rosewood and padouk. Most of the pieces produced in Vizagapatam were smaller items such as boxes and mirrors, which western travellers could easily transport. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has an extensive collection of Anglo Indian furniture, including a games table and a games box. 1
1 - Jaffer, A. Luxury Goods from India, London 2002, pp. 88-89, no 37 and pp. 104-5, no. 44