A magnificent silver-gilt casket

Hendrik Barents Amsterdam, 1648

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A magnificent silver-gilt casket

A rectangular partially gilded silver chest on four cast feet in the form of grotesques. The sides are embossed with putti surrounded by flowers, twigs, and rocailles; the edges with profiled moldings. In the center of the lid lies a reclining putto, beneath its body a drapery of fabric. Monkey like figures are mounted on the corners of the lid.

The box was crafted by the Amsterdam silversmith Hendrik Barents (1610-1669), of whom Citroen noted that he was renowned for his boxes. Little is known about Barents himself. He was clearly  influenced by the artists of his time.

This box is an early example of the exuberant floral style that emerged in Dutch silverware during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. This naturalistic decorative style first appeared in the Netherlands around 1610 on tablecloths. Throughout the seventeenth century, this decoration would evolve into a kind of national style, expressed in various branches of applied arts. In addition to this box, a Hague basket from 1643 with an openwork engraved floral wall can be mentioned as a precursor to the floral style (Pijzel p.136). In 1659, Barents made a dish for the church of Akersloot in which he also applied the floral style (Frederiks IV nr. 95).

Arent van Bolten

The cast foot and corner ornaments evoke memories of the sample drawings by Arent van Bolten (circa 1573-before 1633). These drawings, several of which have been engraved, must have been familiar to a silversmith. Van Bolten, himself a silversmith, not only created samples but also designs for silver objects (see Dawn of the Golden Age p. 301, and 408-410).


The putto on the lid of the box draws strong attention. The embossed sleeping boy is directly inspired by a bronze by the Flemish sculptor François Du Quesnoy (1597-1643) housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The theme of the sleeping putto dates back to antiquity and experienced a revival during the Renaissance in Italy. Du Quesnoy ensured the absolute breakthrough of this endearing image. The Italian artist-biographer Bellori praises him for these figurines, which are about half a hand in size.

The painter Rubens thanks the sculptor in a preserved letter for casts of angels. He writes that he regrets being too old to travel to Rome to admire the original sculptures. Du Quesnoy, who worked with Bernini on the baldachin in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, greatly inspired later generations of artists with his putti. One of them was the Flemish sculptor Artus Quellinus (1609-1668), who had studied with him in Rome. This sculptor also created several of these attractive small figurines in precious materials such as ivory. From 1646, this sculptor worked in Amsterdam, where he was involved in the sculptural program of the City Hall on Dam Square from 1648. It is likely that he brought figurines by Du Quesnoy to Amsterdam, where many artists admired them and were inspired by them.

The popularity of the subject cannot be separated from the intellectual interest in the governance, architecture, and sculpture of ancient Rome in republican Amsterdam. The mayors saw themselves as kindred spirits of the Roman consuls and even identified with them. The City Hall on Dam Square was designed by the architect Jacob van Campen in a classical style, and the sculptural program was executed by Artus Quellinus mentioned earlier. One can well imagine that one of Amsterdam’s ‘wise fathers’ commissioned a silver box with a putto in Roman style.

W.J.R. Dreesmann 1960 ; his auction Frederik Muller 1960, lot 125;
The Janssen collection 2003, John Endlich Antiquairs 2011; Private collection, The Netherlands

J.W. Frederiks, Dutch Silver vol. IV, no 148, pl. 69;
Exh. Cat. Meesterwerken in zilver, 1984, no. 39

'Meesterwerken in zilver', Amsterdams zilver, Museum Willet-Holthuysen, 1984, no. 39

Hendrik Barents Amsterdam, 1648

22,7 x 17,2 x 15,7 cm.

1350 grams

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