A unique Japanese Imari porcelain armorial dish with the coat-of-arms of the Danish Halling family
Arita, late 18th century
Diam. 22.3 cm
Dish decorated in underglaze iron-red, pale blue, green, black, and gold, with in the well a coat-of-arms with a chevron with two walking lions (or dogs?) and three two-headed eagles. On top of the crest a lion rampant and under the shield a ribbon with the word ‘FORWARD’. This most likely is the coat-of-arms of the Danish Brigadér William Halling.
William Halling was born, 19 March 1744, as Vitus Halling in the rectory in Hårslev on Zealand, Denmark, the son of the local vicar Mogens Halling and his wife Elisabeth Marie née Olivarius. The family came from the Halling Valley in Akershus, Norway.
In 1759 William became an assistant in the Danish Asia Company (Asiatisk Kompagni) in Copenhagen, and in 1760 he travelled to the Danish-Indian colony Tranquebar and a few years later continued to the Malabar Coast. He was promoted to senior assistant (overassistent) but fell foul with opperhoved P. Scheel and in 1766 moved on to Bengal to enrol in the British Indian army. He served under Major-General Robert Clive and was promoted to captain (this experience might explain the words FORWARD below his coat-of-arms).
Halling became a Danish nabob and achieved considerable wealth during his years in India. On his way back to Denmark, onboard a ship to the Netherlands, he was captured by pirates and brought to Algiers, where he was sold as a slave. Finally, in 1772 he was able to make it back to Denmark. In 1773 he purchased the Brigadér tittle for 1,000 Danish rigsdaler and since then was referred to as Brigadér Halling. He was also given the rank of Major-General and became member of the board of directors of the Danish Asia Company. He purchased a house in Lille, Strandstræde, and commissioned the architect Hans Næss to undertake a comprehensive refurbishment of the property, since then known as the Brigadér Halling House. He also acquired the Bryskesborg estate in Jutland, renaming it Qilliamsborg.
In January 1774, he married Christine Linde Hvas de Lindenpalm the only daughter of Jørgen Hvas de Lindenpalm. As part of the marriage agreement, he received the estate of Tirsbæk at the low price of 10,000 rigsdaler, as a dowry. In 1776 he ceded Tirsbæk to count Caspar von Moltke in exchange for Dronninglund Castle in Vendsyssel. He later constructed a large town mansion in Aalborg (now Hotel Phønic) and acquired Petersholm at Vejle, and Kærgård in the parish of Hunderup. In 1776 he became a White Knight at a cost of 10,000 rigsdaler and was ennobled by letter of patent in 1783.
Halling had a reputation of being a brutal ruler of his estates and for leading a somewhat bizarre lifestyle. He had an Indian servant and had acquired an oriental taste for splendour during his years in India. His marriage was unhappy, and the couple lived apart at times. Halling constructed 21 residences for soldiers on the Dronninglund estate. He launched a programme which taught boys a craft and he hired a physician on the estate in 1790. In 1796, shortly before he died, he created a trust for residents of the Dronninglund estate. His widow sold Dronninglund in 1806 and settled at Keldkær where she died, a very wealthy woman in 1817.
Whether this dish belonged to a larger service is not known, neither when it was ordered by William Halling. It is also possible that it was ordered by his oldest son Hans Hendrik von Halling first lieutenant, landowner of Ormstrup and Frisholt, major and rittmaster.
In 1804 and 1807 the Danish ship Maria Susanna under the Danish captain Gerrit Belmer, and the Dutch captain Ditmar Smit, sailed to Nagasaki chartered by the Dutch. Because between 1797 and 1815, while the Netherlands, first as ally of France and later occupied by France, was at war with England and all Dutch shipping was prevented by the British navy, the only way for the Dutch to continue trading with Japan was by chartering ships of neutral countries, such as Denmark or the United States of America. Possibly Hans Hendrik von Halling ordered the Danish captain Gerrit Belmer to purchase the plate for him.
Only one other similarly designed and painted Imari armorial dish, with the coat-of-arms of the Dutch Snoek family, is known (David Howard & John Ayers, China for the West, volume two, Sotheby Parke Bennet, New York, 1978, ill. 394).