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Mechanical organ

The painted wooden shell depicts a man being savaged by a tiger. The man lies on his back while the tiger sinks its teeth into his neck. When the handle on the side of the tiger is turned, the man's left forearm moves back and forth between his mouth and the tiger's ear, while bellows inside cause the animal to growl and the man to emit a plaintive whooping sound. A flap near the handle can be opened to reveal organ pipes and a keyboard with button keys of ivory. In August 2001, Susan North of the Textiles & Dress Department provided the following description of the man's clothing: Overall, it looks as though the inspiration is perhaps coming from dress of about 1750-1770s, rather than the most up-to-date styles of the 1790s, which isn't unusual given India's remove from the centres of European fashion. One aspect that might have hampered the depiction is that the carving (with the exception of the hat) has not allowed for any three-dimensional aspect of dress, ie: coat tails, shirt frills, etc. Overall, the man is wearing the typical coat, waistcoat and breeches of 18th c. dress. He also has white stockings and black shoes. His coat is rather short and has no sleeve cuff, but the opening down the front with a flat rendition of applied silver braid (of a 1750s or 1760s style) echoes the arrangement for buttons & buttonholes. Clare has given her views on the fabric [see below]. It certainly isn't 1790s or European, but men's coats of the 1750s & 1760s were often brocaded in floral patterns. I wonder if there isn't some melding with military uniform, with the red background and metal braid? The pleated wrist may be a flat rendition of the fine pleated muslin frills popular from the 1780s onward. The black line around his neck calls to mind the 'solitaire' a black velvet ribbon worn around the stock in the 1750s & 1760s. The hat is very informal for the 18th century, not the formal tricorne or chapeau bras. It looks like what was known as a 'wide-awake', with a low round crown and wide brim. It was becoming more fashionable for day wear from about the 1770s onwards, and may well have been worn more widely in India because it offered better protection from the sun. Clare Browne of the Textile & Dress Department has provided the following: The man's jacket is indeed curious, with floral sprigs all over the red ground. This doesn't correspond to any type of fabric I can think of that a fashionable Englishman (or even an unfashionable one) would have worn in the 1790s. He also seems to have a yellow waistcoat underneath, with red buttons, though it was difficult to make out exactly what was going on through the glass [of the case]. The coat has a funny series of white tabs down the front which don't appear to correspond to normal button and button hole arrangement, and his cuffs of pleated linen are also a bit of an oddity. He reminds me of a 17th century English embroideress's attempt at an elephant at three removes from the original engraved source.

  • Culture:
  • Period:
  • Materials:Painted wood with metal fixtures
  • Specific materials/techniques:
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  • Hornbostel-Sachs category:
  • Repository:Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Measurements:Length: 178 cm, Height: 71 cm, Width: 61 cm