Large Etched Brass & Copper Tobacco/Betel Box
length: 18cm, height: 4.1cm, width: 5.3cm
This box with copper sides and a brass lid and base with a hinge that elegantly alternates between the two is the product of Sri Lankan craftsmen who based the form on contemporary Dutch tobacco boxes that similarly mixed these two metals.
According to Coomaraswamy (1956, p. 255) “The influence of Portuguese and Dutch in the low-country [the coastal regions of Sri Lanka] in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, on art, costume, and manners was extremely marked…Dutch influence is seen in the brass tobacco boxes, of which Dutch examples are still common, beside the Sinhalese imitations.”
The Sri Lankan aspect of this box is clear in the motifs etched to the base and top of the box. The top has a central pair of bizarre European style winged dragons with their adorsed or entwined in the Sri Lankan way, similar to how pairs of geese often are depicted in Sri Lankan art. On either side are stylised Sri Lankan
katiri mala orchid motifs. The base is etched with a central scrolling flower motif. To one side is a rampant Sinhalese lion. On the other are four European figures in what eighteenth century European dress.
The Dutch had captured most of the island of Sri Lanka by 1660 which they ceded to Britain in 1802. During this 140 year period, Dutch tobacco boxes were incorporated into the oeuvre of local makers, much in the way that they became adopted in Sumatra. Locally, they were used to store and carry small amounts of tobacco but also betel.
Coomaraswamy, A.K., Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, Pantheon Books, 1956.
Inventory no.: 780
for a related example.