Pierced, Gold Bezoar Stone Box
late 17th-early 18th century
diameter: 4.5cm, weight: 24g
This fine spherical box of high-grade gold comprises two halves which have been engraved and pierce. It is decorated with scrolling foliage, although each half has a plain rim. Probably made in Goa, it was designed to house either a bezoar stone or a Goa stone (a bezoar stone facsimile made by local Jesuits) and destined for the Portuguese-European market.
The construction and pierced scrollwork here is similar to that on a bezoar stone gold box which comprised lot 283, in Christie’s, ‘Arts of the Islamic and Indian Worlds’ London, April 7, 2011. That box was later identified as a bezoar stone box from Goa and ascribed to the late 17th century and illustrated in Jordan-Gschwend & Lowe (2015, p. 131).
Bezoars of the type for which bezoar cases were made were naturally occurring stones (largely comprising gallstone matter and hair) found in the digestive systems of certain animals, particularly sheep, deer and antelopes. The stones were prized for their supposed neutralising effects on poison. (The word ‘bezoar’ is thought to derive from the Persian ‘
pad-zahr‘ (antidote). Artificial bezoars were made by Jesuit priests in Goa and were intended to be used in the same way as natural bezoars: ground bezoar or small chips of the stone were mixed with wine, tea or water as a medicine to counteract ailments such as epilepsy and melancholy, and as an antidote to poison.)
The importance and costliness of bezoar stones meant that they were often mounted themselves with gold and silver – often in filigree – or were encased in elaborate gold and silver boxes such as the example here. One example in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, is of gold set with rubies and emeralds and is believed to have been made in India in the seventeenth century (see Komaroff, 2011, p. 258.) The costliness of the stones and their boxes was such that they sometimes were sent as diplomatic gifts. The king of Cochin for example sent Portugal’s Manuel I (reigned 1495-1521) a bezoar stone shortly before the Portuguese began trading there (Jordan, 2007, p. 91).
The example here is in fine condition. There are no losses and no repairs. The two halves fits together tightly
Jordan, A. et al, The Heritage of Rauluchantim, Museu de Sao Roque, 1996.
Jordan-Gschwend, A, & K.J.P. Lowe (eds.),
The Global City: On the Streets of Renaissance Lisbon, Paul Holberton Publishing, 2015.
et al, Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts, LACMA/Yale University Press, 2011.
Levenson. J. (ed),
Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 2007.
The collection of Robin Wigington (1932-2002), Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wigington amassed a large collection of items relating to Tipu Sultan (as well as other Indian items) which he exhibited at his Arms and Armour Museum.
Inventory no.: 3682