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At almost half a metre long and weighing almost a kilogram, this tray of silver filigree which is most probably the product of silversmiths working in colonial Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia today), is among the largest such examples of Dutch (or Portuguese) colonial silver filigree that we have seen. It retains traces of gilding (gold plating) and it is likely that it was either partly or fully gilded.
Usually such filigree items are ascribed to India, often Goa. But many such examples were made in the East Indies on behalf of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC). Examples found in India were not necessarily made there but are likely to have been traded there by the VOC from Batavia.
The tray or platter sits on four rococo-style cast silver feet. It has two prominent handles. The silver edging of the sides is finely crenulated (almost serrated) all the way around, providing an extra pleasing detail.
The filigree comprises fine curved silver wires arrayed between broader, flatter wires. Floral and geometric patterns are used, as well as many fine borders utilising a zig-zag filigree pattern. The flower motif in the middle of the tray is augmented by a central silver spherical granule at its centre.
The patterning is similar to a 17th-18th century silver filigree box that was most probably made in Batavia and which had the cypher of England’s Queen Adelaide (1792-1849) that we had in the past and which is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia (see Bennett & Kelty, 2014, p. 99).
The rim has what might be assay or town control marks (see the images below) and although worn, these do have some resemblance to known control marks used in colonial Batavia in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Items with similar styles of filigree that are attributed to either India or Southeast Asia are illustrated in Piotrovsky (2006. pp. 64-67).
The main objective of the VOC was to bring spices from Asia to Europe. But the VOC also established a complex series of intra-Asia trade networks whereby items were purchased in one part of Asia to be sold in another for profit. One study identifies 1,059 ships in the employ of the VOC which routinely took part in trade within Asia between 1595 and 1660 (Parthesius, 2010, p. 13). Textiles were a mainstay of intra-Asia trade but other consignments included luxury goods, timber, Chinese porcelain, and even elephants. Items of silver were produced in and near Batavia at the behest of the VOC and there was a history of silver filigree production in the area. William Marsden in his treatise on Sumatra first published in 1784 includes an extensive description of gold and silver filigree work carried out in Sumatra, with the observation that: ‘there being no manufacture in that part of the world, and perhaps I might be justified in saying, in any part of the world, that has been more admired and celebrated than the fine gold and silver filigree of Sumatra. This indeed is, strictly speaking, the work of the Malayan inhabitants’. He adds that ‘The [local] Chinese also make filigree, mostly of silver, which looks elegant, but wants likewise the extraordinary delicacy of the Malayan work.’ Sumatra was an important market for Indian-made textiles imported by the VOC. Pepper and gold were among the goods that the VOC received in payment. Undoubtedly, filigree work was too, all of which would have been trans-shipped through Batavia. It is a possibility that has been explored by Veenendaal (2014) who illustrates a series of chests with similar filigree which he attributes to West Sumatra, circa 1700.
The platter here is in excellent condition. There are no losses or repairs. There are areas of obvious solder among the filigree but it seems likely that this is contemporary with the piece. It is the largest example of Batavian filigree that we have seen, published or otherwise – it is certainly a museum-quality piece.
Bennett, J., & R. Kelty, Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2014.
Corrigan, K., J. van Campen, & F. Diercks (eds.), Asian in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age, Peabody Essex Museum/Rijksmuseum, 2015.
Eliens, T.M., Silver from Batavia/Zilver uit Batavia, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag/W Books, 2012.
Jordan, A. et al, The Heritage of Rauluchantim, Museu de Sao Roque, 1996.
Marsden, P., The Wreck of the Amsterdam, Hutchinson, 2nd ed., 1985.
Marsden, W., The History of Sumatra: Containing an Account of the Government, Laws, Customs and Manners of the Native Inhabitants, with a Description of the Natural Productions, and a Relation of the Political State of that Island, 1784.
Parthesius, R., Dutch Ships in Tropical Waters: The Development of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) Shipping Network in Asia 1595-1660, Amsterdam University Press, 2010.
Piotrovsky, M. et al, Silver: Wonders from the East – Filigree of the Tsars, Lund Humphries/Hermitage Amsterdam, 2006.
Veenendaal, J., Asian Art and the Dutch Taste, Waanders Uitgevers Zwolle, 2014.
Voskuil-Groenewegen, S.M. et al, Zilver uit de tijd van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Waanders Uitgevers, 1998.