Two-Handled Silver Bowl
European Colonial, probably Dutch Colonial, Batavia
early 18th century
height: 15cm, width (handle-to-handle): 26cm, weight: 902g
This large, unusual two-handled bowl is of thick-walled, high-grade, waxy silver. The amount of silver that has been used appears unnecessarily generous: the bowl is surprisingly heavy and solid.
The wide, thick rim is crenulated. The handles are solid cast and separately applied. The bowl sits on a plain and relatively high ring foot. The lower part of the bowl is decorated with a wide band of lotus-like petals. The upper part of the bowl has a thin foliate border. And the between these two borders is an elaborate frieze of flowing foliage, pseudo arms motifs (beneath the handles) and faces of a bearded man. The motifs are at once European rococo and Malay in inspiration with the elaborate, scrolling foliage.
The bowl is unusual. It is certainly a colonial piece. Attribution cannot be definite but Dutch colonial origins seem likely with eighteenth century Batavia being the most likely candidate. Colonial South America origins at first might seem like another possibility but nothing like this bowl in style or form has been published that has such origins.
Several clues are useful in dating the bowl. The form of the handles are particularly seventeenth and eighteenth century in style. Parallels can be found in the handle of a silver jug attributed to around 1700 Batavia illustrated in Voskuil-Groenewegen (1998, p. 21). The type of script used for the engraved ownership mark also is of this period. The stylised bearded face also is of the period. The jug illustrated in Voskuil-Groenewegen (1998) is cast with a face in which the beard and hair are formed by floral and foliage work, as is the case with this bowl. (See Haags Gemeentemuseum, 1983, p. 21) for a clearer photograph of this feature. Such a dramatic face also is used on a salver attributed to the seventeenth century and thought to have been made in Batavia (see Haags Gemeentemuseum, p. 17).
Possibly the inspiration for such face for native craftsmen might have come from the German-produced Bellarmine jars that were carried from Europe to South and Southeast Asia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by VOC ships.
Bellarmine or ‘Beardman’ pottery jars which had a face of a bearded man embossed on their sides were produced in the Rhineland, Germany and were traded across the Indian Ocean by the Dutch and English. Complete examples and fragments still are found today in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and so on. That a German-produced item should have been so commonly traded by the English and Dutch should be no surprise: in seventeenth century Sri Lanka for example, most of the artillerymen employed by the VOC were not Dutch but German for example. Could it be that the discarded jars and fragments of such jars were an inspiration for the face motifs here? Of course Bellarmine jars were not alone in featuring bearded figures, but it is a possibility.
The wide petal border featured on the lower part of this bowl perhaps relates to petals borders used in other extant examples of Batavian silver.
The bowl does not have maker’s or assay marks. It is however engraved with the letters ‘M.A.O’ which most probably is an ownership mark. It was not uncommon in the eighteenth century for silver to be engraved in this way – colonial administrators moved from country to country and it was important that their possessions were marked but also, households formed and reformed with new additions and departures particularly with high death rates in Batavia and other colonial settlements – ownership markers were needed particularly in determining property rights for inheritance purposes. Interestingly, the ownership mark on this bowl has been engraved upside down – perhaps so that it could be seen more easily if the bowl was stored hanging from a hook. Or simply because the silversmith found it easier to engrave it that way given the shape of the bowl and his need to get a good grip on it.
Overall, this is a highly unusual, rare piece. No similar examples appear to have been published. It is large, decorative and intriguing.
Haags Gemeentemuseum, V.O.C. – Zilver: Zilver uit de periode van de Verenigde Oostinische Compagnie 17de en 18de eeuw, 1983.
et al, Zilver uit de tijd van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Waanders Uitgevers, 1998.
The Bellarmine and other German Stoneware, Little Dunham, 2009.
The Bellarmine and other German Stoneware II, Little Dunham, 2011.
Australian art market.
Inventory no.: 1232
Detail from Item 1235, a chair that might have Dutch colonial origins in the Dutch East Indies. The bearded face has some parallels with that on the bowl here.
An intact Bellarmine jar.
Bellarmine jar fragments displayed in the National Maritime Museum,
Galle, Sri Lanka.
Detail from the bowl.