A RARE VIZAGAPATAM PEN-ENGRAVED IVORY INLAID EBONY DOCUMENT BOX WITH SILVER MOUNTS
Coromandel coast, Marsulipatnam, circa 1740
The oblong box with elaborate pen-engraved ivory scrolling flower pattern all over, under the lid, decorated with a central pen-engraved ivory medallion in which the coat-of-arms of the Mersen family, a compartment with idem decorated lid, with silver mounts, handles, hinges and lock, apparently unmarked.
H. 10 x W. 30.5 x D. 22.5 cm
In the middle of the lid of the box is the family crest of Galenus Mersen (Middelburg 1705 – Batavia 1750). His coat of arms consists of a chevron with three roses under a helmet of a flower/rose on a stem with leaves. Galenus was the son of an alderman of Middelburg. He joined the VOC as the assistant merchant and set sail to the Dutch East Indies in 1727.
In 1737 he was merchant and secunde in Masulipatnam and at the end of 1737, he was appointed Director of the Northern Coromandel Coast in Masulipatnam. In 1743 he became extraordinaris Council of India and till 1747 he was Governor and Director of the Coromandel Coast.
On February 20 1737 he married Clasina Jacoba Maire in Masulipatnam, daughter of Gosewijn Maire, Director of the VOC in Paliacatta on the Coromandel Coast.
Boxes like these are regularly called 'Vizagapatam', however Jan Veenendaal (in: Aziatische Kunst, 49ste jaargang, Nr. 1, pg. 52-60) has convincingly argued that ebony boxes with fine ivory inlay of small flowers connected by scrolling vines, were made in Masulipatnam instead of Vizagapatnam, as was long assumed. Masulipatnam was a much more important trade post for the Dutch than Vizagapatnam ever was. Several document boxes with Dutch heraldic coats of arms decorated in the same way as the present box are known and according to Jan Veenendaal all of them are from Masulipatnam as is the present one with the coat of arms of a Director for the VOC in Masulipatnam.