Design objects using exotic materials

During the second half of the 17th century, Europeans arrived in Asia without furniture or other household effects. They commissioned local craftspeople to create items to meet their needs, and for exporting back to Europe. These unique pieces, while used as items of furniture in the European fashion, often contained elements of local style and exotic materials such as ebony, tortoiseshell and inlays of mother of pearl and ivory. They became highly desirable items throughout Europe.

This cabinet, made in India, is an example of European design fused with Hindu stylistic elements. The traditional Baroque caryatid legs, common on this type of European cabinet, have been combined with carved Hindu serpent beings.

Look closely at this cabinet. What materials has it been made from?

What do you think this piece of furniture was used for? How would you use it in your home? What would you keep inside it?

Investigate other objects of design which have been made in India. Below are a selection of other works in our collection to help get you started. What materials or motifs do they have in common?

Take it further

Imagine you have been commissioned to create a piece of furniture what materials and motifs would you use that are indicative of where you live.

Research mid-seventeenth century European furniture and find an example of a free-standing cabinet. Compare it to this cabinet and list the similarities and differences.

Design is everywhere!

Design is a process for generating, evaluating and communicating ideas.

Think about all the things you used or touched today: at some point an artist or designer has contributed to the way an object looks, sounds, feels or how you use it.

Designers create works according to a request or a brief to solve a problem to meet a particular purpose or outcome. Designers work in multiple fields, including fashion, video games, architecture, graphic or product design.

Think and discuss

Designers and artists are often concerned with form and function, that is, the shape of an object and the way it looks versus
the intended purpose of the object. Locate works of art where an artist or designer has balanced form with function.

What is the function of works of art that aren’t necessarily used?

Discuss the following statement as a class: form is more important than function.