Thursday, December 27, 2012

Object of the Day:  The Dudley Box, 1579

This pretty little box was made in England in 1579 to hold sweetmeats.  Gifts of sweetmeats, sugared fruits and candies were traditional presents at New Year in the Royal Court.  Sometimes these were presented in special, and often precious, containers such as this one.  

The crest of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (died 1588) is inlaid im silver in the lid. Dudley was the favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, and was, therefore, a very important fella about the court.  No doubt, this box must have been made especially for Dudley as a New Year's gift.  

Curiously, after the box had been donated to the V&A, it was untouched for many years.  In fact, it was not opened until 1968 when the crest of Dudley and inscribed date  was discovered for the first time.

The box is decorated in the technique known as damascening, a process, especially popular in the Sixteenth Century, in which gold and silver ribbon is forced into a cross hatched surface of iron using a copper tool. The base iron was darkened with heat and chemicals so that it would develop a blue or black hue which would contrast with the gold and silver ornament. 

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