Description & Technical information

This rare pair of armchairs are profusely inlaid with an arabesque design with gold onto a steel ground. The backs and seats of the chair are of chain mail, a type of material often used for armoury, including helmet and body armour. The chairs have baluster style front legs, gently curving back posts which connect to the top backs made of a curved metal sheet. The arms are elegantly curved, connecting to the backs and seats. A variety of koftgari designs are employed for different parts of the chairs: the top backs have continuous scalloping arch shapes filled with symmetrical flower patterns, while the aprons (front side of the seats) are damascened with undulating vines encircling fruits. 

Like most Anglo-Indian furniture, these chairs are probably based on an English prototype. The chairs were probably made as a joint effort by a number of different hands, including the furniture-maker who constructed the frame, the goldsmith who produced the gold inlay, and the armour-maker who supplied the chain mail. Several examples of gold-inlaid armour at the Jodhpur Fort (Elgood, 2017) share the same decorative scheme as the inlay appears on the chairs. It is often the case where once demand for arms and armour declined, the armour-makers switched to making furniture by applying their knowledge from making arms and armour. 

They are most likely travelling chairs and can be disassembled for ease of portability, indicated by the clearly visible screws. This points towards the chairs falling within the category of campaign furniture – known for their ease to travel, this type of furniture was historically made for military campaigns, but were also used for expeditions and served ceremonial purposes. Campaign chairs decorated in koftgari technique are extremely rare, as the technique is extremely time consuming and costly.  It is possible that cushions were added to the seats of these chairs for comfort.

Although the origin of the koftgari style decoration is relatively unknown, the technique involves inlaying silver, or less commonly gold as in this instance, wire into steel. The references to small items of koftgari work in the major exhibitions, including the Empire of India Exhibition of 1895 and the Dehli Exhibition of 1903, may well indicate that the current pieces were of exceptional importance at their time of manufacture due to their size. The use of gold as opposed to silver inlay would further strengthen the case for these being items considered most luxurious and undoubtedly made for someone of high standing and wealth in the society of the day.

For examples of furniture in koftgari technique, see:
Untracht, Oppi, Marjatta Parpola, and Asko Parpola. Skimrande metall : hantverk från Sydasien = Metal marvels : South Asian handworks. Borgå: Borgå Museum, 1993. Cats.147-150, p.80.
Elgood, Robert. Rajput Arms and Armour: The Rathores and Their Armoury at Jodhpur Fort. Vol. 2. 2 vols. New Delhi: Mehrangarh Museum Trust in association with Niyogi Books, 2017.
A suite containing chairs in the same style, sold by Sotheby's: Important English Furniture /Lot 340 2006

Stock no.: A5357

Period:  19th century
Origin:  Gujarat or Sialkot, Punjab
Medium: gold overlay on steel
Dimensions: 88 x 57 x 46 cm (34⁵/₈ x 22¹/₂ x 18¹/₈ inches)
Categories: Furniture