THE HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND UNIQUE EBONY AND PEN-ENGRAVED MARRIAGE CABINET OF GOVERNOR-GENERAL DIEDERIK DURVEN (1676-1740) OF THE FORMER DUTCH EAST-INDIES
Sri Lanka, circa 1724
H. 204 x W. 145 x D. 55 cm
The extensively ebony and pen-engraved ivory inlaid teak two-door cabinet rests on a table with cabriole legs, and has a carved coat-of-arms in the middle of the pediment, representing the Dutch heraldic lion holding a sword in his right claw and a bundle of seven arrows, representing the seven Provinces for the Dutch Republic, in his left claw. The doors have two identically decorated panels; under a clock indicating one o’clock (probably the time of the marriage), the Durven coat-of-arms with two geese facing the same direction over a snake below a stylised helmet. In the middle, a typical Sri Lankan inlaid star or compass-rose. Hereunder the bride and groom stand inside a bower or chapel with a cockerel on top, and under a crown, the couple holds between them a heart within a horseshoe for luck in love. Both sides of the cupboard likewise extensively decorated with flowers and vines. On the right side of the cabinet, at the top two angels with trumpets holding a crown over a heart pierced by two arrows, and under a tree, a figure on the left holding a cross and a figure on the right holding a ladder. Below them a man smoking a pipe and holding a staff inside a small bower with a cockerel on top, flanked by two large birds. On the left side of the cabinet, again under two angels with trumpets holding a crown over a heart pierced by two arrows, under a tree a figure on the left holding the ladder and on the right a crucifix. Below that two houses with a woman in the doorway of the house to the left, and a man in the doorway of the house to the right, possibly the parental houses of the marriage couple. At the bottom again a man smoking a pipe and holding a staff inside a small bower with a cock on top and flanked by two large birds.
Sri Lankan cabinets with compass-roses inlaid with ebony and ivory are known, but the extensive decoration in this cabinet is unheard off. The coat-of-arms of the two geese over a snake belongs to Diederik Durven (Delft 1676 - 1740), first married to Jacoba van Breda (Amsterdam 1683 - Batavia before 1724). Later he remarried with Anna Catherina de Roo (Batavia 1699 - Delft 1741) and they had a daughter, Ida Anna, born on 13 December 1725. The present cupboard was probably made for Diederik’s marriage to Anna Catherina in Batavia in 1725.
Diederik Durven studied Law in Leiden and became a solicitor for the VOC- Chamber in Delft in 1704. On the
fourth of January 1706 Diederik sailed to Indonesia aboard the ‘Grimmesteyn’, arriving in Jakarta (Batavia) in August. There Durven worked 14 years as a lawyer in ‘de Raad van Justitie’ and was appointed extraordinary member of the Council of India in 1720. After the death of Governor-general Mattheus de Haan in 1729, Durven was elected his successor. However, by surpassing a few older members of the Council with his election, Durven made enemies.
In addition to this bad start for Durven, the Directors in Amsterdam felt that they were losing control over Batavia, as if they ever had much direct control over a country on the other side of the world which it took six months
to reach anyway. However, under Durven, the drop in moral standards and the rise of corruption in the city reached an all-time high. In order to make it clear that Batavia had to implement the policies decided in Amsterdam, and that corruption was not tolerated, a scapegoat was needed for the malfunctioning of the colonial government. On the 9th of October 1731 the Directors in Amsterdam took a stunning decision of recalling Governor-General Diederik Durven, his director- general Cornelis Hasselaar, two members of the Council of India, Hendrick van Baarle and Wouter Hendrickz. They had to return to the motherland immediately “zonder gagie of eenig commando” (without payment or rank).
They were made the chief offenders for corruption and decline of the VOC in the East and their dismissal was to
be a clear warning to VOC officials in Batavia. However, it did not make much difference in faraway Batavia.
Back in the Netherlands Diederik took legal action against the VOC. The case dragged on till his death on February 26st, 1740. Anna Catherina died a year later, on February 28, 1741, leaving a huge estate, but there is no mention of the cupboard.
Overall in a good condition, this cabinet has some remarkable old restorations. There are saw-lines in the doors, a replacement of the keyhole and the stand is 18th century but perhaps added in Holland. Also, the pediment has been sawed apart and put together again. Normally Governors-General were allowed up to eighteen large chests to fill with their belongings upon their return, however, Durven was sent to the Netherlands without ‘payment or rank’, and with only six large chests to take all his belongings back to Holland. It appears that the cabinet was disassembled perhaps to fit in a large chest or just to reduce the space it needed, to be reassembled again after arrival in the Netherlands. Possibly the reassembling never took place during Diederik and Anna’s lives and therefore the cabinet is not mentioned among their belongings.
Illustrated is the original pamphlet dating from 1731, Lyst der Opontbodene Personen van Batavia, en het Eyland Ceylon, stating that Durven was summoned back to the Netherlands and could only bring six kiste with him.
It has long been assumed that Diederik Durven is Governor Duff depicted on Chinese export porcelain, but there is no evidence for this.
Auction S.J. Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 7 March 1961, lot 1540 (ill.)
With Carlton Hobbs, then in an American private collection, and finally in the English trade until May 2020