Casket thumbnail 1
Casket thumbnail 2
+7
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery

Casket

16th century-early 17th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This casket is constructed from translucent panels of tortoiseshell secured with elaborate silver mounts. The Portuguese prize caskets of this type highly, particularly for use in churches. Here they serve as reliquaries (containers for holy relics) and as ciboria (containers for the Eucharist). Their shape follows a typical Iberian form. Indian craftsmen made it in various materials, including gold, ivory and mother-of-pearl. Until recently, scholars thought that this casket and others like it were made in Spain or Portugal in the 17th century. However, evidence from recent Portuguese research now makes us think that they were made in India.

Object details

Categories
Object type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Casket
  • Key
Materials and techniques
Tortoiseshell, with silver mounts
Brief description
Tortoiseshell casket, India, 16th or early 17th century.
Physical description
Rectangular casket of horn with silver mounts engraved with organis motifs. Flip handles at each end and one on the lid. Lid hinged with canted sides. Flat top with hinged lock. Key inside.
Dimensions
  • With lid closed height: 130mm
  • Width: 260mm
  • Depth: 125mm
Gallery label
Casket for the Portuguese market About 1580–1600 India (Gujarat) Turtle shell; silver mounts Given by Dr W.L. Hildburgh FSA(09.12.2015)
Credit line
Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA
Object history
"The translucent panels lend an unreal quality to this casket, which is constructed entirely of tortoiseshell secured with elaborate silver mounts. In Portugal caskets of this type have been highly prized, particularly in churches, where they have been used as reliquaries and ciboria. Their shape follows a typical Portuguese form that was executed in India in various materials including gold, ivory and mother-of-pearl. The mounts, which are incised with vegetal and animal motifs, are also found on Gujarati mother-of-pearl articles made under Portuguese patronage, suggesting that local silversmiths were supplying the makers of tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl goods.

Until recently this casket and examples of its type were thought to be seventeenth-century Spanish or Portuguese. Their new Indian attribution is based on recent Portuguese scholarship, which has drawn on documentary sources and an in-depth study of the properties of the caskets themselves. Contemporary travel accounts confirm that tortoiseshell articles were made in India under Portuguese patronage and that they were highly valued in Europe. The early seventeenth-century French traveller Francois Pyrard de Laval, for example, revealed that the centre of the tortoiseshell market was Cambay, where the material was worked into women's bracelets, and 'very beautiful caskets and boxes decorated with silver'. He likewise observed, at Cambay and Surat, 'small cabinets, caskets and boxes in tortoiseshell that they make so clear and polished that there is nothing more beautiful'. Tortoiseshell caskets mounted with silver also appear in contemporary Portuguese documents, both in India and in Portugal. For example, the inventory of a customs official in Diu dated 1546 included a money chest
of' tortoiseshell and silver',31 while the gifts presented by Cardinal-King Henry of Portugal (1512-80) to the Sultan of Morocco from 1577 to 1580 included 'a small casket in tortoiseshell, decorated in silver' and 'another flat chest in tortoiseshell... all decorated in silver'.

The casket was acquired in San Sebastian in 1919 by W.L. Hildburgh, an American collector of Spanish metalwork, who gave it to the Museum in 1955."

Amin Jaffer, Luxury Goods From India: the art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, London : V&A, 2002, p.17, ill. ISBN: 1 85177 381 9.

Old label inside states 'tortoise shell'. Old label and key kept in Register Files.
Production
Portugal or Spain, Colonial?
Summary
This casket is constructed from translucent panels of tortoiseshell secured with elaborate silver mounts. The Portuguese prize caskets of this type highly, particularly for use in churches. Here they serve as reliquaries (containers for holy relics) and as ciboria (containers for the Eucharist). Their shape follows a typical Iberian form. Indian craftsmen made it in various materials, including gold, ivory and mother-of-pearl. Until recently, scholars thought that this casket and others like it were made in Spain or Portugal in the 17th century. However, evidence from recent Portuguese research now makes us think that they were made in India.
Bibliographic references
  • Amin Jaffer, Luxury Goods From India: the art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker, London : V&A, 2002, p.17, ill. ISBN: 1 85177 381 9.
  • Jackson, Anna & Jaffer, Amin (eds.) Encounters : the meeting of Asia and Europe 1500-1800, London, V&A, 2004 p.36
Collection
Accession number
M.10&A-1945

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Record createdNovember 26, 2002
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