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A highly important Japanese export lacquer Indian buffalo shield with the Sweers coat-of-arms, for the Dutch market  ​  Edo period, circa 1690

A highly important Japanese export lacquer Indian buffalo shield with the Sweers coat-of-arms, for the Dutch market

Edo period, circa 1690

The Indian buffalo leather shield, decorated in black, gold and silver, hiramaki-e and takamaki-e, with centrally the coat-of-arms of the Sweers family, surrounded by birds and flower sprays of wisteria, flowering plum blossom and fuyo

Diam. 53.5 cm

The coat of arms in the middle belongs to the Dutch family of Sweers. The shield was probably ordered by Balthasar Sweers (Amersfoort 1653-Amersfoort 1703), son of Guilliam Sweers and Aeltgen van Hasselt. Balthasar Sweers joined the VOC, as an assistant, in 1679. June 15, 1685, he was sent to Japan as merchant and secunde for the first time.
In 1686 he was back in Batavia where he married Constantia Heussen and on June 17, 1687, he was sent again to Japan as secunde. June 16 1789 he became “Opperhoofd” in Japan and on June 1691 he was recalled to Batavia to appear before the “Raad van Justitie” and was dismissed in November, but allowed to return to the Netherlands “buyten qualiteyt en gagie” (without position and payment). He died in his home town Amersfoort in 1703.


In the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is another leather shield from India, Bengal, lacquered in Japan, with the coat of arms of Constantijn Ranst (1635-1714), the predecessor of Balthasar Sweers as Opperhoofd for the VOC in Japan in 1667-1668, 1683-1684 and in 1686-1687. Maybe Balthasar Sweers was inspired to have his shield made by the example set by Constantijn Ranst.

For an interesting Amsterdam tortoiseshell and silver box from 1691 with the coat of arms of Constantijn Ranst see Uit Verre Streken, March 2018, item 8.

In the collection of the Princessehof Museum in Leeuwarden there is an Arita wine bottle with initials B:S in a circle and an exceptional Dutch overdecoration in chinoiserie style. The initials on the bottle are supposed to stand for Balthasar Sweers (Christiaan J.A. Jörg, Fine & Curious, Japanese Export porcelain in Dutch Collections, 2003, pg.223). Two more bottles in the British Museum also show the same initials, B:S.


In the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam there is a palempore from the Indian Coromandel Coast, probably Negapatnam, dated first quarter of the 18th century, with a slightly different coat of arms but also belonging to another branch of the Sweers family (Inv. BK-KOG-1238). The palempore is part of a gift to the Rijksmuseum consisting of memorabilia of Admiral Isaäc Sweers (1622-1673), who was killed in the battle of Kijkduin in 1673. However, the style of the palempore is early 18th century, so it is unlikely to have been in his possession. It was probably ordered by his son, whose name was also Isaäc Sweers (1671-1732). He was one of the commanders of the squadron which escorted the VOC fleet from the Sound to the Netherlands in 1696. While on this mission Sweers jr. Was wounded in a skirmish with the French. Stadtholder William III rewarded his valour by promoting him to the rank of captain extraordinary (Ebeltje Hartkamp-Jonxis, Indian Chintzes, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 1994, p. 50-51).
Both Balthasar and Isaäc are descendants of Diederik Sweers (1445-1487), wool merchant and alderman in Helmond en Margaretha van Eijck (1445-1484), the first bearers of the Sweers coat of arms used by later generations with small variations.

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