Hispano-Arab Damascened Box
Place of Origin: Eibar, Spain
Date: Circa 1920
A small decorative iron box from the early twentieth century, damascened in two colours of gold in a style that was preserved, perfected, and popularised by the Zuloaga family of Eibar, Northern Spain; particularly Plácido Zuloaga (1834-1910), the supreme damascener of that family. The Zuloaga family were known first as gunsmiths and armourers but later as artisans for decorative objects.
Probably designed as a pillbox, likely made in Eibar, Northern Spain, it is closely related to two similarly damascened cigarette-cases (maker unknown) from an Eibar catalogue from the 1920’s (see Larvin, 1997, p.140-141). The three related objects conform to a brief ‘Moorish’ trend in Eibar in the early twentieth century. Cards retained by the Iraeta family of Eibar, and illustrated by Larvin in the same pages, show interior views of Alhambra of Granada and of Alcázar Palace in Seville (a royal palace originally developed by Moorish Muslim Kings), these or others cards like them would have provided the source for the ornamentation of the box shown here.
The lid depicts a cusped Islamic archway underneath which stand a pair of robed and turbaned Muslim men. The archway is surrounded by panels of fleur-de-lis and various geometric designs, likely inspired by Hispano-Arab ceilings, plasterwork and wooden doors.
A winged projection from the lid provides purchase for opening, and each of the four sides of the box has a central elaborate eight-pointed star, flanked by leaning palmettes, all surrounded by foliate designs and profuse dot punching.
The turbaned men are an unusual depiction on such boxes, but a similar damascened pillbox from Eibar (1910-1925) decorated with the Nasrid motto La Ghāliba illā Allāh (‘There is no victor but God’) is in the Khalili collection and illustrated by Larvin (1997), cat.no.39, p.137.