Snuff box

Caja de rapé

This piece, from the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, sunk in 1804, is a little box shaped like a scallop shell, with flat sides. The hinged lid is decorated with C-shaped geometric motifs forming four cartouches symmetrically arranged at the cardinal points, joined by a scrolling border; in the centre, a large space framed by linked plant motifs depicts a fox stalking a bird. The reverse side is identically except for the central motif: on this side, there are two birds perched in a garden.Salto de línea The decorations were engraved with a burin, on a background of large repoussé dots. The decorative techniques and the use of motifs which have evolved from geometric towards naturalistic forms, allow us to date it to 1700 - 1725.Salto de línea Meanwhile, the animals represented and the structure of the box in the shape of a scallop shell, suggests that it was produced in the Bolivian workshops around Potosí. The admiration in the Viceroyalty of Peru for shell-shaped boxes (also seen in larger boxes, known as coqueras, yerbateras, and dulceras) confirms this supposition. A snuffbox of a similar design to this one from La Mercedes was retrieved from the galleon Nuestra Señora de la Luz, sunk off Montevideo in 1751 (auctioned at Sotheby’s New York, March 1993, lot 250).

Cristina Esteras Martín