Casket and tea canisters

DATE: 17th century - 18th century (made) casket
19th century (made) internal divider and canisters
PLACE: India (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Silver filigree, glass

This casket likely originates from the Portuguese colonial base in Goa, situated on the western coast of the Deccani plateau where filigree was an established craft. The filigree design was created by drawing fine silver wire through holes in a steel plate, gradually reducing their diameter, with wires of different thicknesses used to vary the design. The wires are shaped into intricate scrolled shapes, using forms such as the flame and feather motifs called ‘buti’ and ‘buta’, derived from Persian sources.

When the Portuguese arrived in India in the 16th century, they brought with them luxury European items and precious art objects to use in diplomatic missions with Mughal rulers, exposing Indian silversmiths to the tastes and styles of these new consumers. Such filigree caskets were then exported to Europe where they were often adapted to hold tea, with many examples sent to the Netherlands from the Dutch colonial post in Batavia (Jakarta) in Indonesia. Prior to being adapted, such caskests might have been used as ‘attardans’, storage for perfumed oils and water. In this example the cut glass canisters and detachable divider were likely added during the 19th century.

The cherubim face on the clasp of this casket indicates that it was made for European consumers, demonstrating how Indian crafts and designs were adapted to appeal to this audience.