Snuff box

Caja de rapé

Due to being crushed in the sinking of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes in 1804, the profile of the lid cannot be made out very well. On the reverse side, however, the box resembles a scallop shell, with an outline marked by two cutaways forming the structure of a Pilgrim’s shell (marking the area of the hinge).Salto de línea The cover differs from the reverse side in its concave edge, rather than a convex moulding. Cajeta snuffboxes usually have a concave embossed shell in the centre, with smooth gadrooning radiating from it, interspersed with diamond shapes, frame motifs, and the occasional plant motif.Salto de línea Above the embossed shell, a male face surrounded by gadroons is depicted on a naturalistic background. On the edge there are oval mirror motifs and two rodents, most likely representing viscachas - according to Andean mythology, they were messengers between humans and the Apus (mountain gods). The design changes on the reverse side, with two figures (one sitting and the other standing) in the foreground, and a walled city in the background; the clothing and headdress of one of them seems to refer to a biblical scene, although this is not identified.Salto de línea On the right-hand side, a compact tree with a bird perched on it recall traditionally auspicious symbols in Andean silver, taken directly from Incan keros and aquillas. It is very similar in format and decoration to one of the snuffboxes recovered from the galleon Nuestra Señora de la Luz (auctioned at Sotheby’s, New York, 1993, lot 250): the same central shell and gadrooning, with the hybrid figure of “a green man”, and oval mirrors on the concave edge. In addition, the fact that the reverse side depicts four figures with a walled city in the background and the inscription “NOE” attests to a taste for this type of religious theme in an everyday object.Salto de línea These coincidences lead us to believe that both pieces belong to the same centre of artistic production in the Potosí or Chuquisaca area, both of them dating before 1752, although the model could have been successfully repeated after this year.Salto de línea

Cristina Esteras Martín