Flaming Jewel Box

Flanders 17th century

Description of a flaming jewel box covered with tortoiseshell and realized around the 17th century in Flanders.

Flaming jewel box covered with tortoiseshell, with rounded top and small tortoiseshell molded shell containing bronze title block. Gilded and chiseled bronze applications on the corners.

Made with fir wood, with rectangular shape and urn-shape top, the box is adorned with a central title block and lateral plates at the corners and on the lock.

The lightly curved top is decorated with a central medallion inside a molded frame: on it is represented a bird standing on a branch; the scene is embellished with different types of flowers.

The lateral plates, both the ones of the top and the ones of the central body, are made with gilded and chiseled bronze. They all have the same decorative motif, similar to that of the central insert. Birds are made with embossed silvered steel plate. Lateral title block’s are decorated with a leaves wreath.

Portagioie Fiamminga lato
Portagioie Fiamminga fronte

The central body of the flaming jewel box is supported by four glided bronze feet shaped as ungulate paws with abnormal well-defined zoomorphic details (tarsi and claws).

In correspondence of the lock, originally iron made with chiseled and gilded bronze keys, there is an oval shaped title block richly decorated with acanthus leaves and various species of flowers.

The jewel box is in good conditions and shows original small nails, gilded and with quadrangular section. All the decorative elements have been made with mercury gilding technique.

Cm. 10,5 x 19,5 x 14

Inspect the object

Historical stylistic analysis flaming jewel box

Tortoiseshell is a very precious natural material often used as decorative element in the making of art objects or luxury furniture.

His use as precious covering is documented since 17th century, mostly in German production centers, Augusta in Bavaria and Anversa in Flanders.

The most valuable parts, selected for artistic aims, were the dorsal platelets (shield or tortoise shell) and the ones of the ventral flat part (plastron) because use to show the best stains. The slabs apart plates were selected based on transparency, on color and on stains; shade and quality of the sheet depended on the species of tortoise.

In the working process, after welding, continued with the eventual application of precious material elements. The surface could be dyed with shades from red to black, or could be embellished with metal plates that gave more brightness and intensified the natural shades of tortoiseshell: the jewel box in question is embellished with glided and chiseled bronze decorative elements.

The observation of some details, in particular the one of feet, highlights the use of “mercury gilding”.

It is a technique widely use until the mid-19th century: it consisted on spreading a gold and mercury mixture on a metal under-layer and in the following heating up of the object. The final structure was granular, porous and opaque because of the re leasing of mercury during the heating process. Because of this at the end the surface was brownish to compress the porous layer and obtain a smooth and bright artifact.

Mercury gilding allowed to give more or less brightness depending on the different states of brownish, creating then light-dark games.


At the “Museum of London – Costume and Decorative Arts” is preserved a jewel box that had similar dimensions and decorations to the one in question: central title block and chiseled and gilded bronze applications on the corners with flowery and plant decoration along with a bird in the center.

Similar but with different decoration is instead the jewel box kept at the “Museum of Otwock Wielki” (Varsavia)

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