|Batavia, Dutch East Indies, late 18th century|
This exceptionally rare and monumental example of colonial filigree silverwork almost certainly from the Dutch East Indies, and most probably Batavia, comprises a large tray, a box, a cover, eight internal lidded containers, and internal dividers, all in silver. All the original elements are present; nothing is missing. Each main piece is stamped with a Dutch tax stamp for foreign-made silver for 1824. The date of manufacture is likely to have been earlier, most probably towards the end of the eighteenth century.
This set is one of the largest examples of colonial Batavian filigree silverware of which we are aware and certainly the largest filigree silver box. No similar item appears to have been published. It is an exceptional piece and one that has a role in telling the story of colonial silver-smithing in the Dutch East Indies. It also brings together various elements - local Chinese-inspired workmanship, Dutch colonial demand for such luxury goods, local Islamic motifs, and Indian forms. Together these elements tell an evocative story of eighteenth century trade, of European, Islamic and Southeast Asian interaction, all within this one piece.
The form is that of a large Mughal Indian pandan or betel nut box. Typically such boxes had a lid and sat on a low, footed tray. But the interior reveals the box to be not for betel but a toiletry box set, no doubt made for a Dutch colonial woman. The superbly-rendered sixteen-pointed star on the top of the box shows the Islamic influence and is reminiscent of the filigree silver, gold and suasa motifs on jewellery, betel boxes and dagger and sword casings made in Sumatra for local sultans and their courts.
The silver sheet beneath the filigree appears to have been lightly gilded. The filigree itself might also have been although this is no longer apparent.
The set includes a large scalloped-edged, double-walled tray that stands on three tiered-edged feet and with a rim covered with filigree silver wire arrayed in fine, wavy bands of filigree curls interspersed with floral and leaf motifs. The floral/leaf motifs relate to motifs seen in the indigenous Malay gold jewellery of South Sumatra. The edge with a raised, rounded rim comprises sixteen prominent scallops.
The three feet attached to the bottom of the tray are original to the box. This is clear from the construction - they have been riveted to the base of the tray but the tray comprises two layers of silver sheet and the rivets have been driven through the lower layer but are not apparent on the upper layer. Their shape might appear to be art deco in form but in actual fact, their stepped form can be found in the stepped outlines of the roofs of seventeenth and eighteenth century shop houses of wealthy merchants of central Amsterdam and on some colonial buildings in Batavia.
The rounded box, which sits in the well of the tray, comprises filigree covered silver sheet scallops that might also have been lightly gilded. The filigree has alternating flower and leaf motifs on each scallop.
The domed lid, with sixteen lobes, is covered in fine filigree again with alternating floral motifs. At its centre is a large, splendid star with sixteen points each of which is infilled with filigree. As mentioned, the form of this star has parallels with traditional filigree gold, silver and suasa work from Sumatra.
The lid finial or pull-handle is decorated with beaded and delicate serrated edging. The top has a fine floral and leaf spray in silver filigree. Such work is apparent on a lidded filigree box attributed to eighteenth century Batavia that is illustrated in Voskuil-Groenewegen (1998, p. 66).
The severity of the scallopping of the rim has parallels in the silver salvers commissioned by Dutch administrators and their families from silversmiths in Batavia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to commemorate marriages, deaths and other important life milestone events. The bulbous scalloped cover has its parallels in Indian Mughal pandans but also in the lids of the Dutch-inspired two-handled lidded bowls also commissioned from Batavian silversmiths. (See Voskuil-Groenewegen, 1998, p. 28 for an example.)
The interior of the box has space on one side perhaps for a lady to keep her gloves or small brushes and combs. The other side has dividers of sheet silver making separate compartments for each of four fitted boxes and five scent bottles. Each box has sides and a lid with covered with silver filigree that includes floral and leaf motifs. The scent bottles similarly are decorated but with the inclusion of collars of sheet silver and filigree leaf ornamentation. The four small scent bottles have screw in lids, whereas the larger scent bottle has a pull-out lid. Each lid is domed and decorated with a petalled flower motif.
The toiletry box set here is an important piece. We know of no other example. Its size is remarkable, as is its condition: there are few losses and no obvious restoration. The presence of Dutch tax stamps assists with its dating when many other examples of this type of work have no marks excluding anything approaching definitive dating. This is an exceptional, museum-worthy piece, and quite possibly this represents a once-only opportunity to acquire such a unique and large piece.
|The technique of applying a fine filigree 'fabric' over a sheet silver is most closely associated with small rectangular jewellery caskets that have become known as 'Batavian boxes.' Sometimes, it is assumed that such boxes are made in China, despite the Batavia appellation. Eighteenth century Batavia is the more likely provenance for this group of boxes. Certainly filigree work of this type was undertaken in Batavia and Sumatra in the 18th century. Indeed, a considerable volume of silver, including filigree work, was produced for the United East India Company or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) in Batavia in the eighteenth century. How much of it today is catalogued as 'Chinese' or 'Indian'? Probably a great deal of it.|
Batavia was the VOC's most important Asian operation. It was the administrative, managerial and maritime centre of the VOC's Asian activities. It far exceeded the Company's other posts in terms of size and importance. The products bought by the Company from across Asia were shipped to Batavia from where they were trans-shipped to Europe and elsewhere in Asia (Stevens, 1998, p. 88).
The silver was produced in Batavia's artisan quarters (Ambachtskwartier) in workshops that employed silversmiths of European, Indian, Chinese and Tamil descent. The output, referred to as 'Company' or 'VOC' silver often employed Chinese or Islamic motifs rather than Dutch ones. Hallmark regulations existed for VOC silver from 1667 but these were largely ignored until laws for their better enforcement were introduced in 1730. But free Indonesian, Chinese, Muslim and Mestizo silversmiths were not required to hallmark their work even after 1730 unless they had converted to Christianity, (de Filippis, 2009).
Seven Batavian-style boxes are in the toilet set of Catherine the Great of Russia. These are in the Hermitage Museum today and have been ascribed to China, 1740-1750, (Piotrovsky, 2006.) The attribution to China seems to have originated with an inventory list of the Winter Palace of 1789 which lists the set as being 'Chinese'.
The taste for 'things Chinese' was well developed in Russia by the eighteenth century. Merchants and embassies were requested to source items for the Russian court that were Chinese or at least had the appearance of being Chinese.
Rusia did not have its own East India Company equivalent. It traded with China by land or ordered goods from the East India companies of other European nations, most particularly the VOC of the Dutch. It is quite possible that Chinese-looking items ordered from the VOC were assumed in Russia to have their origins in China rather than Batavia or India. It is also quite possible - likely even - that elements in the Empress' toilet set do not all share the same origins; that the VOC acting as producer and retailer assembled the set from items made in Batavia, China and even India and then marketed the assemblage as a set.
As mentioned, a casket of similar form and decoration attributed to the third quarter of the eighteenth century Batavia is illustrated in Voskuil-Groenewegen (1998, p. 66). Similar pieces from another toiletry set from the Prussian and Germany royal von Hohenzollern family and in the David Chan Collection are illustrated in Chan (2005). These are attributed to the mid-18th century. A Batavian rather than a Chinese provenance for many of these items seems likely, all be it perhaps by local Chinese silversmiths. Indeed, for much of the eighteenth century most of the population of colonial Batavia comprised ethnic Chinese.
de Filippis, M., 'Margrieta van Varick's East Indian goods', in The Magazine Antiques, September 2009.
Haags Gemeentemuseum, V.O.C. - Zilver: Zilver uit de periode van de Verenigde Oostinische Compagnie 17de en 18de eeuw, 1983.
Piotrovsky, M. et al, Silver: Wonders from the East - Filigree of the Tsars, Lund Humphries/Hermitage Amsterdam, 2006.
Stevens, H., Dutch enterprise and the VOC, 1602-1799, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 1998.
Voskuil-Groenewegen, S.M. et al, Zilver uit de tijd van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Waanders Uitgevers, 1998.
|Provenance: UK art market|
|Price:||Item has been sold.|
|Offered By:||Items for sale from dealers we worked with previously|
121 Mount Vernon, Boston, MA 02108 USA
Item has been sold.
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