Chettinad door
Dimensions

Height 220 cm

Width 111.5

Depth 16 cm 

Materials

Burmese teak wood, iron, copper alloy, gold paint

Origin

Chettinad, South India

Dating

Late 19th to early 20th century

Provenance

From a Scandinavian collection

Price €6000, -

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Introduction

The Chettiars are a South Indian caste of traders, who amassed great wealth in the late 19th to early 20th centuries with banking and trading in gemstones, among other things. They were active throughout Southeast Asia but lived mainly in South India in an area called Chettinad, literally “Land of the Chettiars”. They built large palaces where families gathered to celebrate parties, weddings, births, Hindu festivals.

These palaces always had a central hall for the feast, with adjacent apartments for each male heir and his family. The doors leading to these apartments were made of imported Burmese teak, and were often elaborately decorated with carvings. The entrance is usually rather low, so as to force a person to bow when coming in, out of respect.

In the 20th century, the high maintenance costs of the palaces became too expensive for many families, and many were demolished. Some parts, such as this door, then ended up on the Western art market. What is still there is on UNESCO's nomination list to become a World Heritage Site.

"In order to construct and decorate these mansions, materials and expertise were brought from all over the world, which added to the cultural glory of Chettinad. For examples, teak wood was imported from Burma, satin wood from Ceylon, marble from Italy and Belgium , cast iron and steel from UK and India, ceiling in metal plates from Great Britain, tiles from Bombay, Japan, Germany, France and England, chandeliers from Belgium, France and Italy. As they required the best, they also brought skills from different regions of India such as woodcarving, frescoes and egg-plastering." 1

Notes
1. UNESCO tentative lists; Chettinad, Village Clusters of the Tamil Merchants.

 

This Chettinad door

We have here the front panels and elaborately carved frame of a Chettiar door, carved from solid teak. The panels would be mounted on a simple plank door suspended by hinges. The style is eclectic, showing the worldly view of the Chettiars; Hindu iconography on the frame mixes with classic European door panels for the actual door.

At the top of the frame it says: 

“Dr R. Muthuswamyacharyar”

Undoubtedly name of the owner of the apartment behind it.

 

Comparable examples

The Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore has a somewhat similar Chettinad door. Accession number 1994-00314.

Chettinad door
Chettinad door

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