Dating the Furniture of Sri Lanka

by Ayesha Abdur-Rahman, 2009

The dating of Sri Lanka produced furniture and other decorative arts can be problematic for many reasons. Design styles were influenced by the changes in European furniture tastes. Furniture styles were sometimes copied from original pieces brought from Europe, Batavia (now, North Jakarta, Indonesia), and India. In addition, well-liked styles were continuously manufactured beyond the period of foreign influence that led to their popularity. For example, during the British Period a great number of Dutch styles continued to be made for use. Popular Dutch styles of the 17th century were often reproduced as well as adapted in the 18th century, and they continued to be made available into the 19th century. In the early part of the 20th century, Art Deco and the Modernist Movement influences were applied to these former styles.

Furniture dating and accurate identification of woods has been challenging in this project as there is scant scientific research available. The essay on wood presented as part of this project contains information, primarily from Brohier (1969), that was helpful in identifying the woods that were popular during the Dutch period. Based on this information, some objects were able to be dated.

When using the image database, it is useful to refer to these key dates from a chronological list by K. M. de Silva in A History of Sri Lanka (2005).

1469-1815 Kandyan Kingdom
ca. 1505-1948 European presence
1594-1658 Portuguese influence
1640-1796 Dutch influence
1798-1948 British influence

The Kandyan Kingdom was heavily influenced by and overlaps most of the European presence from the end of the Portuguese period (1658) to the beginning of the British period (1798).