This unusual Dutch or Batavian silver and mother of pearl circular hinged snuff or tobacco box has two finely carved translucent mother of pearl plaques; one mounted to the cover and one to the base. Both plaques depict Willem van Imhoff, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. The box has been purpose made to house these plaques which have been mounted in frames and secured by thin silver rings at the edges. This treatment allows the light to penetrate and illuminate the mother of pearl, showing the sheen, colour, iridescence and translucency of the material to best effect. At the same time, allowing us to scrutinise and appreciate the precision, artistry and detailing of Holtzhey’s carving. The silver has been gilded to the interior of the box. The box dates to the mid-18th century and was probably made in 1742 or shortly thereafter. The silver is unmarked but would have been made in either Holland or the Dutch East Indies.
The carved mother of pearl plaque to the cover of the box features a profile bust of Gustav Willem Baron van Imhoff (1705-1750), inscribed in Latin and translating as ‘at the age of 37’. This would have been in 1742, the year that the V.O.C (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), otherwise known as the Dutch East India Company, appointed him Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Willem had returned to Holland at this time and would have been able to sit for the portrait, in which he is depicted with long hair and wearing a frock coat. His name and titles are inscribed around him.
Willem was born into an aristocratic family. In 1725 he entered into service with the V.O.C. in Batavia, working as a colonial administrator. He was promoted several times, serving as Governor of Ceylon from 1736 to 1740 and as Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1743 until his death, whilst still in office, in 1750.
To the underside of the box, another mother of pearl plaque also depicts van Imhoff. This is an allegorical scene which shows him being presented with his commission as Governor-General by the V.O.C., personified as a woman. Both plaques are signed by the medallist Holtzhey. It is thought that the mother of pearl was carved in Holland in 1742, shortly before van Imhoff set sail to take up his appointment in Batavia.
Martin Holtzhey was a German medallist who was born in Ulm in 1697 and died in Middleburg in 1764. He was active in the Netherlands, working in the provinces of Holland, Gelderland and Zeeland as a medallist and mintmaster.
On 27th October 1742, Van Imhoff set sail from the island of Texel in the Netherlands on the ship ‘Herstelder’ bound for Batavia. He arrived at the Cape on 21st January 1743. On the 28th February, the Herstelder left the Cape on the final leg of its journey, arriving in Batavia on 28th May 1743.
The Asiatic Annual Register for 1803 describes van Imhoff’s reception as Governor-General, at the Cape in 1743, a few days after his arrival there. In the Grand Council Chamber of the V.O.C. at the Cape of Good Hope on 26th January 1743, the Governor General’s Commission was read out to the public. After the assembled crowd had congratulated him, there was a military and naval salute to celebrate the event. The Governor General then invited all the officers, civil and military, and the principal inhabitants to partake of “a sumptuous entertainment”.
After the meal, a silver medal was presented to each of the guests, “on one side the bust and titles of Mr Imhoff, on the reverse an allegorical representation of the East India Company in the figure of a female, its accustomed symbol, with the inscription spes meliorum temporum [the hope of a happier day]; on the edges were engraven the year M.DCC.XLIII”.
Writing in ‘The Social World of Batavia: European and Eurasian in Dutch Asia’, Jean Gelman Taylor explains “Governors-general, and all who aspired to follow their style, had memorial trays or plates inscribed with their names to mark special occasions in their families, and issued medals to their colleagues commemorating accession to office.” An example of the silver medal presented at the Cape banquet is within the W V R Baldwin Collection of the Medals of Southern Africa.
The plaque which forms the underside of the box, differs from the one mentioned above from the Cape banquet. Other medals were created by Holtzhey to celebrate van Imhoff’s appointment. The Rijksmuseum has four medals made by Martinus Holtzhey featuring van Imhoff. One example is in ivory and three are made of silver. The one closest in size and matching the description of these is object number NG-VG-1-2331 produced in 1742 and also catalogued in Beschrijving van Nederlandsche Historie-Penningen ten vervolge op het werk van Gerard van Loon, Hendrik Willem Couwenberg, J.F. Lange, J.F. Plugger, R. van der Meulen, H.W. Couwenberg, Dirk Jurriaan Sluyter, catalogue number 169. A similar but different medal by Holtzhey featuring van Imhoff is pictured in a pamphlet by Jacob van der Schley, after Holtzhey, also held within the Rijksmuseum collection.
Around the edge of the picture are the words FIDEM BATAVUM PRISCAM VENERETUR UT INDUS To the left hand side of the scene is a ship in harbour, the name on the stern reads ‘HERSTELDER’(the ship which brought van Imhoff from Texel to Batavia in 1742/3). The figure on the left, attired as a Roman General, is van Imhoff. He is approaching the figure on the dais and about to accept the scroll of office she is holding out to him. Behind the dais is the figure of blind Justice – depicted with her eyes closed, not blindfolded) bearing her sword and scales. On the dais, a crowned female figure with the cipher of the VOC on the front of her bodice is seated on a throne with her right foot resting on a harpy lying beneath the throne. On her lap are the crowns of the Indonesian princes. She is holding out the scroll to van Imhoff with her right hand and her left hand is placed behind her and to the side, grasping a sword decorated with a laurel wreath. Behind the throne stands a lion clutching a sheaf of arrows to his chest. The base of the dais is engraved with M.HOLTZHEY.F. (a short form of M. Holtzey fecit).
Beneath the scene are inscribed the words:-
GUBERN.GEN GREATUS AN.MDCCXL.
EX IN PROVISO IN PATRIUM DELATUS
DENVO PROFICIS CENS IN
The figure of the lion behind the throne holding the sheaf of arrows and the sword with the laurel wreath, grasped by the crowned female, are elements found within the Coat of Arms of Batavia, designed by Jeronimus Becx in 1651, also within the Rijksmuseum collection. The Rijksmuseum also have an allegorical painting of the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC by Nicolaas Verkolje c. 1702 within their collection and the composition has similarities with this plaque.
Firstly, both have a harbour scene in the background; secondly, the lion figure appears within a decorative shield attached to the column base to the left side of the dais in the painting and stands behind the throne in the plaque. Thirdly, the insignia of the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC adorns the throne in the painting and the VOC insignia adorns the bodice of the crowned woman on the plaque.
Fourthly, the most striking similarities are between the female figures representing the VOC. In Verkolje’s painting and in Holtzhey’s plaque, both figures are seated on a throne placed on a raised dais, both wear a crown and both figures are holding similar objects; a sword with a laurel wreath and a scroll, although the objects have changed hands in Hotzhey’s. The positioning of their feet is also remarkably similar. In the painting, the figure has her right foot resting upon a turtle and in the plaque, her right foot rests upon a harpy. There are also similarities in the style of their high-waisted gowns.
The diameter of the box is 7.5 cms
The box is in excellent original condition with only the slightest signs of careful use.
The mother of pearl plaques are in exceptional condition with no discernible damage.
Jean Gelman Taylor, The Social World of Batavia: European and Eurasian in Dutch Asia 1983
The Asiatic Annual Register, 1803
The Dutch East India Company’s shipping between the Netherlands and Asia 1595 – 1795, Details of voyage 3256.1 from Texel to Batavia
W V R Baldwin Collection of the Medals of Southern Africa
Rijksmuseum, object no. SK-A-4643, Coat of Arms of Batavia, Jeronimus Becx (II), 1651
Rijksmuseum, object no. SK-A-4290, Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC, Nicolaas Verkolje c. 1702
Rijksmuseum, object no. NG-VG-1-2331, silver medal by Martinus Holtzhey, Amsterdam 1742, and an ivory medal, object no. NG-VG-20-179
Beschrijving van Nederlandsche Historie-Penningen ten vervolge op het werk van Gerard van Loon, Hendrik Willem Couwenberg, J.F. Lange, J.F. Plugger, R. van der Meulen, H.W. Couwenberg, Dirk Jurriaan Sluyter, cat.nos, 169, 170, 178
Rijksmuseum, object no. RP-P-OB-83.809 A printed pamphlet by Jacob van der Schley, after Holtzhey, Amsterdam 1742