Inventory no.: 1084

Indo-Portugese Brass Box, India


Indo-Portuguese Open-work Brass Casket with Silk-Velvet Lining

Portuguese India

17th-18th century

length: 27.7cm, width: 17.5cm, height: 10cm

This intricate but well-made, sturdy casket has open-work panels on all sides including the hinged cover that are all lined with pink and blue silk velvet such that the velvet is visible through the open-work. The lace pattern of quatrefoil motifs on each of the central panels has parallels with work often encountered in seventeenth century marble jali screens of central and northern India, but also with work used on doors in palaces and religious shrines, such as the doors of the great gate leading to the Jilaukhana (forecourt) of the Taj Mahal. The borders of the slightly domed lid however are filled with foliate scrolling open-work. Small roundels are worked into the sides of the box and these are inset with shaped pieces of glass with backing of foil of various colours (there are losses to these.) Remarkably, the panels have been fitted together using dovetail joints as if the box is made from wood.

The interior of the box is lined with the original pink velvet lining with cord edging. There are losses to the velvet that lines the outside panels. No attempt has been made to replace the velvet although it could be readily replaced.

Originally, the box was fitted with a functioning lock. It might have been intended as a jewellery box, but also might have served an ecclesiatic function, perhaps as a safe box for church silver or for relics.

Examples of open-work in various media from Portuguese India are to be found in various locations. The Museu Nacional de Soares de Reis in Porto, Portugal, has a crucifix that features similar open-work but in silver over a lacquered wooden base (see Museu Nacional de Soares de Reis, 2001, p. 171). The open-work is mirrored in a Portuguese fifteenth or sixteenth century brass processional cross in the same Museum (see Museu Nacional de Soares de Reis, p. 176.) And the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon has a large, seventeenth century Indo-Portuguese cross of wood but which is covered by a large brass fretwork frame which has some similarity to the fretwork on the casket here and which also is studded with small, round, coloured glass inserts in the manner of this casket (see Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lisbon, 2003, p. 344). A sixteenth century Indo-Portuguese reliquary features fretwork in silver but backed with velvet similar to the backing given to the fretwork in this casket (see Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lisbon, p. 343).


UK art market.


Terlinden, C., Mughal Silver Magnificence, Antalga, 1987; Museu Nacional de Soares de Reis, Guide to the Collection, 2001; Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lisbon, 2003.

Inventory no.: 1084


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