During the 18th and 19th centuries, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) played a significant role in the trade of decorative arts and objects. This period was marked by the influence of European colonial powers, particularly the British, Dutch, and Portuguese, each contributing to the region’s artistic and cultural landscape.

The Kandyan period (1592-1815) of Sri Lanka was particularly influential in shaping the island’s artistic heritage. Under the reign of Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1780), there was a significant revival of Buddhist architecture and art. This era saw the renovation of ancient temples and the commissioning of new ones, adorned with paintings and sculptures reflecting Buddhist themes. The Kandyan style of art, characterised by its distinctive use of colours and narrative style in paintings, became a hallmark of Sri Lankan art and is still popular today. This style was particularly evident in religious paintings on temple walls and wooden sculptures.

The British East India Company’s conquest of Sri Lanka during the wars of the French Revolution marked a significant turning point. The British, realizing the strategic and economic importance of Sri Lanka, made it a crown colony in 1802. Their control expanded to include the Kingdom of Kandy, which had remained independent until then. This integration of Kandy into the British Empire marked the end of the line of Kandyan kings and brought significant social and cultural changes to the region.

The influence of European colonial powers on Sri Lanka was not limited to political and economic dominance but extended to the cultural sphere as well. The decorative arts and objects from Ceylon during this period were heavily influenced by the artistic styles and demands of these colonial powers. The arts of China and Japan, for example, resonated in European decorative arts, and this global interchange of styles and ideas was also evident in the arts of Ceylon.

The trade routes established during this period facilitated the exchange of artistic ideas and goods, not only between Ceylon and the colonial powers but also with other parts of Asia. This interchange led to the creation and trade of unique artistic objects that blended local traditions with foreign influences, making Ceylon an important player in the decorative arts trade during the 18th and 19th centuries.

In conclusion, Ceylon’s role in the trade of decorative arts during the 18th and 19th centuries was shaped by its unique cultural heritage and the influences of European colonialism. The fusion of local artistic traditions with European tastes created a distinctive style that was highly valued in the trade of decorative arts and objects during this period.

– Asian Art Newspaper: Kandyan Art: Legacy of Ceylon
– Britannica: Sri Lanka – British Rule, Colonialism, Independence
– Wikipedia: British Ceylon
– The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Exoticism in the Decorative Arts


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