India, Gujarat or Sindh
Wood with ivory and sadeli decoration; 13 1/2 x 20 7/8 in. (34.3 x 53 cm)
Purchase, Pat and John Rosenwald Gift, 2004 (2004.439)
The surfaces of this writing box are veneered with ebony and inlaid with ivory and sadeli, a micromosaic technique in use since antiquity. It is associated with the eastern Mediterranean region, from whence it spread to Iran and India. This technique consists of binding together sections of diverse materials (tin, wood, ivory, bone, etc.), which are sliced transversally and formed into thin sheets of repeating patterns that are adhered to a wooden support. An earlier method of mother-of-pearl inlaid into wood, in the sixteenth century destined primarily for the Turkish market, predates sadeli in western India; this box, however, resembles a later group, some of which were made for export to Europe.
The overall decorative scheme of the box closely relates to a wider Islamic taste. In particular, the areas of complex geometric patterning and medallion forms, especially the central star motif, recall the distinctive and influential formula that evolved in the Mamluk and Ottoman worlds, where it became a familiar treatment for the surfaces of furniture, doors, ceilings, carpets, and textiles. The borders around the edges of the box contain scrolling vines bearing half-palmette motifs in a contrasting and more fluid drawing style.