This fine, domed chest is of Armenian origin and most probably served a religious purpose – possibly it was used to hold incense.
It is of gilded silver sheet that has then been covered with an outer layer of silver filigree to which champleve enamelled silver floral plaques have been applied. This rich decoration has been further embellished with the addition of Baroque pearls and square emeralds and round garnet cabochons all in high box settings.
The silver filigree is arrayed on all sides in a floral cruciform pattern, with leaves enamelled finely in green, and flowers enamelled in delicate pink and blue against a cream background.
The interior and base have been gilded, with the gilding of the interior remaining especially bright. The overall exterior frame of the box has been chased with a rope-twist motif and also is gilded.
The hinged, domed lid is surmounted by an applied, raised silver flower partly infilled with blue enamel and topped by a Baroque pearl.
The Kalfayan Collection of Armenian Art includes a bowl with similar gilding, filigree, floral enamelling, and applied gems, which is dated to the eighteenth century (Hassiotis, 2010, p. 150-151).
The box here has several indistinct assay marks, including French import marks for foreign-made silver. The French connection is unsurprising; there has long been a significant and influential emigres Armenian community in Paris and France more generally. In fact, France has the world’s third largest community of Armenians most of whom arrived in France after the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.
A related (though less accomplished) censor with parcel-gilt silver filigree, and enamel work attributed to 18th century Armenian Ottoman Anatolia comprised lot 397 in Christie’s South Kensington, Arts & Textiles of the Islamic & Indian Worlds’, April 24, 2015. A related silver filigree incense burner is in the Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat, Armenia. The Cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The box is in excellent condition. All the stones and enamel work are intact. It is probably that some of the pearls are replacements.
Bagnoli, M., et al, (eds.), Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe, The British Museum Press, 2010.
Hassiotis, I.K., et al., Aspects of Armenian Art: The Kalfayan Collection, Museum of Byzantine Culture, 2010.