Silver Filigree & Tortoiseshell Box
Batavia or India
length: 12.3cm, height: 5cm, depth: 9.8cm, weight: 546g
This beautiful box with all sides and a hinged cover comprising panels of silver filigree, and a base inset with a single piece of thick tortoiseshell, dates to around 1700. It was almost certainly made in Batavia (or nearby) probably for the Indian market. It might also have been made in India – often examples of related filigree work are attributed to India, probably incorrectly and probably because they often were found during the colonial era in India.
The filigree features a mixture of flatter, thicker wires that form the outline of the designs. The remaining spaces are filled in with finer, twisted and curled silver wires.
The interior edge is crenulated – an unusual and pleasing touch.
The combination of wide, flattened wire components with fine twisted filigree work is found on articles often ascribed to Goa of the second half of the seventeenth century – see Menshikova (2006, p. 43) for two examples, and Levenson (2007, p. 263-4) for others. Menshikova refers to filigree items of this type as having been made by ‘Chinese masters in India or Southeast Asia’ in the seventeenth century, which leaves open the possibility that such items were made in Batavia, and most probably traded by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Two caskets that also show the flattened and fine filigree wire mix are illustrated in Museo de Sao Roque (2006, p. 212 and p. 214). Both are attributed simply to India.
However, main signifier that the box here was made in Batavia or thereabouts rather than India is the faux keyplate which is a single piece of sheet silver beautifully chased with a bouquet flower design. This type of work is seen more in Dutch colonial Batavian and Sri Lankan silverwork. The faux keyplate serves to hide a join in the filigree work.
The box has a beautiful patina. Its contours have been soften by handling and time. The tortoiseshell base is likely to be original – it has wear and the base of the box was made with crenulations that were folded over to allow the tortoiseshell sheet to be fixed in. The shell sheet has shrunk over time and there is a small gap on one side between it and the side of the box as a consequence, but this is not important. Several small strands of silver filigree might be missing here and there, but overall, the box is in very fine condition. The cover fits well and tightly.
Curvelo, A., et al, The Orient Museum, Lisbon, Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 2008.
et al, The Heritage of Rauluchantim, Museu de Sao Roque, 1996.
Levenson. J. (ed),
Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 2007.
Silver – Wonders from the East: Filigree of the Tsars, Hermitage Amsterdam, 2006.
Museo de Sao Roque,
The Heritage of Rauluchantim, 2006.Provenance:
UK antique market
Inventory no.: 3379