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Box - The Dudley Box

The Dudley Box

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1579 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Iron, damascened with gold and silver

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 57, case 13

Object Type
This small box was designed to contain sweetmeats which in the 16th century were given as presents at New Year. This may explain why a comparatively humble object should be dated.

Inside the lid, inlaid in silver, is the crest of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (died 1588) the favourite of Elizabeth I. This box must have been made specially for him and was almost certainly given to him as a present. Curiously the box was never opened in the museum until 1968 when the crest was seen for the first time.

Materials & Making
The box is decorated in a technique known as damascening in which gold and silver ribbon is pushed into the cross hatched surface of iron using a copper tool. The iron was darkened to a blue or black colouring using heat or chemicals to contrast with the gold and silver ornament. In the 16th century this technique was especially popular in northern Italy for the decoration of arms, armour and wrought iron. Damascening of a similar character appears on the lock and barrel of the English wheel-lock pistol from Belchamp Hall, on display in Gallery 58A.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1579 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Iron, damascened with gold and silver

Marks and inscriptions

Date; 1579


Height: 3.9 cm, Width: 9.4 cm, Depth: 5.8 cm

Object history note

The original owner of the box was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (died 1588): his crest of a bear and ragged staff is on the underside of the lid. By 1900 the box was in the collection of George Salting, who let it to an exhibition of steel and ironwork at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, London (see John Starkie Gardner, Exhibition of Chased and Embossed Steel and Ironwork (London: 1900), plate xxvii and p. 67. George Salting bequeathed the box to the Victoria and Albert Museum on his death in 1910.

Descriptive line

The Dudley Box

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Patterson, Angus, Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe: Proud Lookes and Brave Attire, V&A Publishing, London, 2009, ISBN 9781851775811, p. 97, ill.
Starkie Gardner, John and Burlington Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of Chased and Embossed Steel and Ironwork. London: 1900

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Sweets in precious boxes were popular New Year's gifts at court. This box is decorated with a technique called 'damascening'. The maker used a hammer and punch to push gold and silver into grooves made in the cross-hatched iron surface. Inside the lid is the bear and staff device of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (about 1532-1588), whose portrait is shown in the photograph (right). [27/03/2003]


Iron; Gold; Silver




Metalwork Collection

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