The "Pangolin Fan"

An Imperial Ivory Fan from Ceylon
Hugo Miguel Crespo, Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, 2022

It is with great pleasure that I present this beautiful book. A singular, outstanding object such as this carved ivory fan called for an equally singular book by two renowned authors and specialists in their fields. This carved ivory fan, nicknamed the “Pangolin Fan”, because of the unusual representation of an Indian pangolin on its upper handle, belongs to a small group of exclusive ivory fans made in Renaissance Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). The Portuguese royal family received these fans, alongside other imperial ivories, as diplomatic gifts from the King of Kōṭṭē, Bhuvanekabāhu VII. The delegation he sent in 1542 from Ceylon to Portugal was the first Asian embassy to visit Europe. His ambassador and Brahmin chaplain, Śrī Rāmaraksa Pan ita, brought in his baggage a large selection of imperial ivories that fired the imaginations of the Portuguese royals who received them. The Portuguese Queen, Catarina of Austria, was most fascinated by these unique ivories, and she quickly began to disperse them amongst her family and favourite relatives. Bhuvanekabāhu’s rare and exceptional ivory fans represent globalization and cross-cultural transfers between Asia and Europe after 1542. These ivories bridged Ceylon and Portugal in a unique way, illustrating the extraordinary diversity, ingenuity, and quality of Sinhalese craftsmanship. As exotic showcase pieces, these fans came to represent the extent and power of the Lisbon court in the mid-sixteenth century and qualify as some of the most important Kunstkammer pieces ever collected by the Avis, Habsburg, and Farnese courts in the Renaissance. The “Pangolin Fan” is the only one, of nine imperial fans, to remain in a private collection. The others, originating from distinguished princely collections, are proudly exhibited in museums in Munich, Naples, Vienna, and Braunschweig, while one, previously unknown to scholarship, was stolen in 1920.