On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
Snuff-box, c. 1730-1750, Italian; turtleshell and gold, 13 x 87 x 63mm; acc. no. 2808
Two turtle doves
The collection may not contain any turtle doves, but the material of this eighteenth-century Italian snuff-box makes it a perfect fit for the second day of Christmas. The lid of this turtle-shell box is decorated in gold, depicting two doves carrying a branch in their beaks and flying above plants, insects, a snake and a leopard. The latter two animals were often employed as chinoiserie motifs in eighteenth-century Europe. These organic symbols of the exotic would find company in the contemporary perceptions of the material itself. Turtle-shell was an exotic import, taken mainly from the loggerhead turtles caught in the Indian Ocean.
‘Piqué’, which is the art of decorating turtle-shell with gold was invented in Naples in the late seventeenth century and refers to the action of piercing the surface with tiny gold pins, often combined with larger motifs that are chased (hammered with delicate punches) to create a pattern. The box was probably made for snuff or patches, but was acquired by Miss Alice de Rothschild as an example of fine eighteenth-century craftsmanship. The Rothschilds as a family were the foremost collectors of piqué in the nineteenth century.