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Rare Mother-of-Pearl Inlaid Lacquered Box with Chased Silver Mounts
probably Dutch East Indies, Batavia/Sumatra
length: 21.5cm, height: 10cm, depth: 10.7cm
This box almost certainly from the colonial Dutch East Indies is of lacquered, wooden panels that are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, has a hinged, slightly domed
cover. The top edge of the cover or lid and the bottom edge of the base are overlaid all the way around with plain, silver strip that has been carefully applied
with tiny silver pins. The key plate is heart-shaped and chased with blossom and leaf motifs. The two hinge brackets on the reverse are of similar form and
The lid and all four sides are decorated with a repeated blossom within a petal roundel trellis design around a central pictorial cloud-like cartouche. The
catouches are decorated in finely cut mother-of-pearl with roosting and flying birds and butterflies amid rockeries and shrubbery.
The box retains its original lock and key and the lock still functions.
The interior is of plain black lacquer.
It is not clear what this box was intended for. The lid opens so that the design on the cover will face someone opposite, suggesting that the box was intended
to hold something meant to offer another - possibly tobacco or betel nut. Possibly, it was intended to hold small jewels and other keepsakes.
This box is part of a small group of similar boxes that comprise similar mother-of-pearl inlay against a black lacquer ground, with silver mounts. The other
published examples of this type of work seem to be restricted to conventional Dutch colonial betel box form. See Lee et al (2016, p. 166) for an example.
Another box, part of the Curzon Collection held at the National Trust's Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire in England, has brass mounts but similar mother-of-pearl
inlay. Its interior has a red lacquered tray with compartments suggesting that the box was intended to be a colonial document or scribe's box or a jewellery box.
It is described as 'Chinese'. Much or most of the Curzon collection was sourced by the Curzon family in India and it is to India that the Dutch East India
Company (VOC) exported a lot of its wares as part of its intra-Asia trade, much of which was produced or assembled in the Dutch East Indies. The Curzon box
can be seen here.
The departure here of this box from the others includes that it is larger. Also, the shape is different - it is higher and longer than other known examples. The
main silver mounts are chased rather than plain. And there is the presence of the pictorial cartouches. The other boxes generally have only the blossom
roundel trellis design.
Precisely where all the components of this box were made is unclear and requiring more research. The mother-of-pearl work, use of lacquer and the
Chinese-style motifs suggest the environs of Palembang in South Sumatra. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) and its successor agents sourced a variety
of luxury goods for the European and Indian markets from Sumatra and elsewhere in Southeast Asia during the 17th and 18th century. Almost all these goods
were trans-shipped through Batavia in West Java.
The box here is in very fine condition. There are no chips, significant losses and no repairs. The lid fits very well. The panel that forms the base has a slight
shrinkage crack in it, but this is old, stable and out of sight. There are no feet; the box was never intended to have feet. Overall, it is remarkably well
Lee, P. et al, Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia 1500-1900, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2016.
Provenance: UK art market
Inventory no.: 4626 SOLD
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