This interesting gilt belt and buckle (pending) fuses elements of the Chinese and Malay cultures within the design; the buckle is of typical Malay form whilst elements of the ornamentation are Chinese.
This buckle and belt were made by Chinese craftsmen for the Malay or Indonesian market, where gilding was particularly favoured. The Chinese workmanship is demonstrated by the typical and distinctively shaped quatrefoil nut to the reverse of the buckle, a feature only ever found in Chinese metalwork. The chased ornamentation, birds amongst the blossom, a squirrel and the circular pond with goldfish at the central point on the front of the buckle are other traditional Chinese design elements. A silver hair comb which has been ornamented in a similar style appears In Roth’s ‘Oriental Silverwork Malay and Chinese’ at Figure 136 on page 255.
The scalloped shape of the buckle is typically Malay and is inspired by the shape of a human eye, with the goldfish pond positioned where the pupil would be situated. Parts of the ornamentation have been formed from applied wirework which has been hammered and shaped to form leaves, tendrils and borders.Such applique work is a common feature of Peranakan silverwork from West Java around 1900 and first half of the 20th century.
The belt comprises fourteen hinged rectangular curved panels, creating a subtle scalloped effect around the waist when worn, echoing the shape of the buckle. Each of the panels contains a central scalloped decorative medallion set against a plain ground and framed by a border of tendrils within raised and crimped borders, presenting the medallion in a similar way to a painting set within a picture frame.
Belt buckles were worn by all Peranakan men and women as part of their traditional dress until western style clothing arrived with the British around 1910-1920. The bar on the back of the buckle allowed the belt to be attached, securing the buckle to the waist. Peranakans were unique amongst the many Chinese immigrants in Malaysia; whilst other Chinese remained very loyal to their Chinese roots, customs and beliefs, the Peranakans chose to adopt many Malay customs and practices, including their elaborate wedding ceremonies.
Provenance: UK art market
Size of Buckle: Width 10 cms, height 7.5 cms
Belt: Length 74.5 cms, width 3.2 cms
Raimy Che-Ross, Malay Silverware, pages 68-83, Arts of Asia, Volume 42, Issue 1, Jan-Feb 2012,
H Ling Roth, Oriental Silverwork Malay and Chinese, Figure 136, page 255, Truslove & Hanson Ltd, London 1910
H Ling Roth, The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo, Volume 1, based chiefly on the Mss. of the late Hugh Brooke Low, with a preface by Andrew Lang, Truslove & Comba, New York 1896
Ho Wing Meng, Straits Chinese Silver : A Collector’s Guide, Times Books International, Singapore, 1984