A Pair of Koftgari Chairs
This rare pair of armchairs is profusely inlaid with an arabesque design with gold onto a steel ground. The backs and seats of the chairs are made 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, the goldsmith, and the armour-maker. Several examples of gold-inlaid armour at the Jodhpur Fort (Elgood, 2017) share the same decorative scheme as the inlay appearing on these 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.
The presence of clearly visible and prominent screws and the fact that these chairs can be disassembled easily reinforces the assumption that they are travelling or campaign chairs. Known for their portability, this type of furniture was historically made for military campaigns and expeditions as well as serving ceremonial purposes. Campaign chairs decorated in koftgari technique are quite 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 wire into steel. In the Empire of India Exhibition of 1895 and the Dehli Exhibition of 1903, the objects decorated in koftgari style were primarily small pieces. This fact may indicate that the current pieces were of exceptional importance at their time of manufacture due to their uncommonly large size. The use of gold as opposed to silver inlay would further strengthen the case for these chairs being luxury items which were undoubtedly made for someone of high standing and wealth in Indian society.
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