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Rare Indo-Portuguese Agate Box with Chased Silver Mounts
height: 13.3cm, length: 14cm, depth: 10.1cm, weight: 1,127g
This extraordinary box is one of the rarest items of Indo-Portuguese Goa workmanship to have come to light in recent years.
Each side, including the base, is of a large, flat piece of agate (or possibly closely related sardonyx which has been mined in India for thousands of years),
and each side is bordered with silver mounts that have been chased and engraved with birds, cows, and mythical composite animals amid sinuous foliate
scrollwork and against a tooled background. A figure of a man appears on one side. The figure could be that of a European or an Indian but in any event is in
the process of firing an arrow from a bow.
The box sits on four solid-cast and chiselled silver feet. The lid is hinged and retains two original exterior silver chains on either side which support the weight
of the lid when it is open. There is a hinged and engraved silver latch which would have allowed the box to be locked. In keeping with the opulence of the box,
the underside is set with agate and with silver mounts that also are chased but this time with broad foliate scrollwork which is also seen on 16th and 17th
century Goa work.
Typically, such boxes from early Indo-Portuguese Goa are of tortoiseshell and chased and engraved silver. This is the only example of which we are aware
where the sides are of agate or sardonyx instead of tortoiseshell. The use of agate or sardonyx instead of tortoiseshell likely underscores the luxurious nature
of this box: agate would have been a more costly and time consuming material with which to work compared with tortoiseshell.
The chased silver mounts however are very typical of mounts attributed to 16th and 17th century Goa. See Vassallo e Silva & Flores (2004, p. 119), Levenson
(2007, p. 263), and Jordan et al (1996) for a variety of examples. Also, click here for an example in the Victoria & Albert Museum - a tortoiseshell casket with
engraved rather than chased silver mounts that is attributed to 16th or early 17th century India and made for the Portuguese market.
The box here, however, has different proportions to the more usual examples of tortoiseshell but this is likely due to the restrictions on the availability of flat
agate sheets suitable for use in this box. Larger and longer pieces of tortoiseshell, which can be flattened, allowed for the more standard form of
Indo-Portuguese reliquary boxes to be constructed with longer sides.
The silver on the box here is also very similar to that on a silver-mounted coco-de-mer box from the Tavora Sequeira Pino Collection and exhibited in the
Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum and attributed to 17th century Goa (see Moura Carvalho, 2004, p. 52).
Such boxes were commissioned from local artisans operating in Goa by the Portuguese. They were sold in Portugal and often were used in churches and
monasteries to hold reliquaries, although the dimension of the box here differs to the standard reliquary box used by the Portuguese so it was probably
intended for other purposes.
The Portuguese ruled Goa after capturing it in 1510. Thereafter, it became a centre for the manufacture of luxury goods to supply the nobility, aristocrats and
wealthy churches and monasteries of Europe with eastern curios and exotica.
The example here is in excellent condition. The images here are a mixture showing the box with overhead light and back-lighting to show up the fiery,
translucent nature of the agate used. The box is a rare, museum-quality piece.
Crowley, R., Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, Faber & Faber, 2015.
Jackson, A. & A. Jaffer, Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe 1500-1800, V&A Publications, 2004.
Jordan, A. et al, The Heritage of Rauluchantim, Museu de Sao Roque, 1996.
Jordan-Gschwend, A, & K.J.P. Lowe (eds.), The Global City: On the Streets of Renaissance Lisbon, Paul Holberton Publishing, 2015.
Levenson. J. (ed), Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 2007.
Moura Carvalho, P., Luxury for Export, Gutenberg Periscope Publishing, 2008.
Vassallo e Silva, N., & J. Flores, Goa and the Great Mughal, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2004.
Provenance: UK art market; European collection.
Inventory no.: 4078
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