Description & Technical information
An important writing chest probably made from anjili wood (Artocarpus sp.) and Southeastern Asian black lacquer or thitsi, gilt on the outer surfaces and inner lid, its interiors lined in cinnabar-red lacquer.
Of hinged cover, its front includes a long drawer of five compartments. The wrought iron escutcheon is cut as an heraldic shield; the scissor shaped drawer pulley and the double loop side handles follow a prototype found on similar pieces of furniture produced in 16th century Europe.
The chest's outer surfaces, except for the underside,
is decorated in a gold enhanced low-relief of stylised lotus scroll pattern (a
motif known as baoxiang-hua, taken from Chinese blue‑and-white porcelain) and
gold foliage on the black lacquered ground, a technique characteristic of
Burmese and Thai lacquerware (known respectively as shweizawa and lai rod nam).
On the inner lid an equally low-relief black lacquer
and gold composition of large double headed eagle flanked by foliage scroll
friezes, reminiscent of Augustinian heraldry.
The most extraordinary aspect of this writing chest nonetheless, lies on the decorative details of its outer lid panel. Occupying the surface's central area, amongst scrolls of lotus flowers, a depiction of a Portuguese figure dressed in sixteenth-century attire (shirt, jerkin, gown, stockings, boots, and a knitted hat), carrying a wicker basket on his left arm and a staff from which hang a hare and a partridge. Over the figure (to which it points with the right hand), and inside a label, an inscription in Portuguese: “dava.lho. vemto. no c[h]apeirao. q[u]er. lhe. de. q[ue]r. nao” (“The wind blew off his big chapeau, whether it did or no”). As Vítor Serrão has already referred, this sentence corresponds to the first verses of an adage by Luís de Camões (ca. 1524 – 1580), found in a letter apparently written in Ceuta in 1549 or 1550, and published in 1598 in the second edition of his Rimas.1 Camões however was simply the author of the adage which, according to the same author conveys the idea of bravery, intrepidity, and adventurous spirit as touted by the political elite in Portuguese
Asia, and certainly an informed choice of the Portuguese patron who wanted to
include such a motto in the decoration of this chest, turning it into a most
rare historical and artistic document of the Portuguese presence in Asia.
Hugo Miguel Crespo
Centre for History, University of Lisbon
1 See: SERRÃO, Vítor, Transmigrações artísticas: uma notável caixa-escritório
indo-sino-portuguesa de inspiração camoniana, in MATOS, Artur Teodoro de; MARTINS,Guilherme d'Oliveira (éds.), Portugal-Índia. Da herança portuguesa à Índia dos nossos dias, Lisboa, Universidade Católica Portuguesa — Centro de
Estudos dos Povos e Culturas de Expressão Portuguesa, 2015, pp. 77 – 104.
2 See: CRESPO, Hugo Miguel, Choices, Lisboa, AR-PAB, 2016, pp. 238 – 261, cat. n.º 22.
Mobiliário Português. Dos Primórdios ao Maneirismo, vol. 3, Porto, Lello &
Irmão Editores, 1990, p. 153.
CRESPO, Hugo Miguel, Choices, Lisboa, AR-PAB, 2016, pp. 238 – 261, cat. n.º 22.
Date: Late 16th century
Medium: Anjili wood, Southeastern Asian black lacquer
Dimensions: 17 x 44.5 x 34 cm (6³/₄ x 17¹/₂ x 13³/₈ inches)
Discover the gallery
Fine Furniture, Silver, Portuguese Tiles and Ceramics, Arts of the Portuguese Expansion, Chinese Porcelain, Fine Arts