Dutch Colonial Burlwood Document Box with Engraved Silver Mounts
Batavia or Sri Lanka
length: 39cm, height: 17cm, width: 28cm
This beautiful hinged box, most probably a document box rather than a betel box on account of its size, is fashioned from the finest solid burlwood. The wood has a superb, glowing patina rendering this box particularly attractive. The box almost certainly is from Dutch Colonial Batavia (today, Jakarta), or possibly from colonial Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
It stands on four turned, wooden feet, and is fitted with silver mounts, most particularly a silver key plate that is engraved with scrolling arabesques suggestive of Southeast Asian provenance. The domed knobs that cover the hinge screws embellish the lid, also are of silver, as are the impressive internal hinge straps (see Eliens, 2012, p. 145 for a box with similar hinge straps or braces attributed to 1740-60) and the rococo-like handles to either side. The silver has no maker’s or assay marks.
The lock is a later replacement, as if often the case with such boxes. Internal dividers no longer are present.
Senior officials of and merchants in the service of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) were required to routinely send written communications about trade, local political developments, culture and any other events or observations deemed potentially useful for the Company’s interests. And usually everything had to be copied three or four times (Veenendaal, 1985, p. 85). Accordingly, portable writing cabinets and boxes such as the example here were much in demand in late seventeenth and eighteenth century Batavia, India and Sri Lanka.
Eliens, T.M., Silver from Batavia/Zilver uit Batavia, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag/W Books, 2012.
et al, La Route des Indes – Les Indes et L’Europe: Echanges Artistiques et Heritage Commun 1650-1850, Somagy Editions d’Art, 1998.
Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India During the Dutch Period, Foundation Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara, 1985.
et al, Zilver uit de tijd van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Waanders Uitgevers, 1998.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 1911