Box

DATE:
mid-17th-early 18th century
MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE:
Wood, mother-of-pearl, brass, lacquer
CLASSIFICATION:
Containers
DIMENSIONS:
5 1/8 × 14 1/4 × 9 3/4 in. (13.02 × 36.2 × 24.77 cm) Key: 1 3/4 × 7/8 × 1/8 in. (4.45 × 2.22 × 0.32 cm)
DEPARTMENT:
Decorative Arts and Design
LOCATION:
Wendy and Emery Reves Collection - Villa La Pausa, Level 3
CREDIT LINE:
Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection
OBJECT NUMBER:
1985.R.465.A-B

General Description

This box is an example of inlay and lacquer work done in the French-speaking town of Spa, near Liège, Belgium. As early as the 14th century, Spa was known for the curative powers of its water and hence developed into a gathering place for Europe’s elite. As a result, a trade in souvenirs emerged wherein local craftspersons produced a wide range goods, including walking sticks, bowls brushes, watch cases, trays, and tobacco boxes. These were purchased by tourists and thereby distributed throughout the continent. By the late 17th century, Spa was known for objects, like this box, that featured decorations in mother-of-pearl, ivory, pewter, copper, brass, and silver set on lacquered wood grounds.

This box belongs to a sizable group, many of which appear to have been purchased by English tourists. With their flowers, birds, and scrolls, the box is characteristic of late 17th-century baroque decoration. However, the stiffness and stylization of the mother-of-pearl work and the inclusion of exotic birds like parrots suggest Indian influence. The trading center of Goa on the west coast of India was famous for the shell and ivory inlay work it exported to Europe from the 15th century on. Furthermore, Indian inlay was highly influential throughout the Philippines and Indonesia. Since the Dutch East India Company maintained a base in Jakarta beginning in the early 17th century, it is not unreasonable to believe that the inlay workers of Spa had access to imported products from India and the Pacific Rim and were influenced by them.

This box has a guilloche pattern border and circular dot patterns of pewter, overall scrolling vine and dot patterns of brass, and an engraved silver key escutcheon. The central boss on the box bears the English coat of arms of Baron Willoughby of Parham and is in mid-18th century Rococo style. The motto reads Virtue sans Peur (Virtue without Fear). The four corner ovals are engraved with a family member's initials BEW who owned the box. They are probably replacements dating to the neoclassic taste of the late 18th century. The feet on the box are additions.

Adapted from

  • Dallas Museum of Art. Decorative Arts Highlights from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection. (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 51.
  • Dallas Museum of Art. The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1985), 167.