This basin may be purely decorative, or it may have had a practical function. The design in the centre derives from engravings by the French artist Jean Bérain (1637–1711) and features a woman sitting under a parasol with a curious little dog by her side. A male figure kneels to present her with fruit and, on the right, a soldier in oriental armour holds a lance.
This decorative scene would have been created by heating the tortoiseshell to make it malleable, then inlaying precious elements into the soft material. This inlay technique developed throughout Europe in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and was used to adorn unique objects from cutlery to weapons, furniture, and fans. It was in Naples that the famous master craftsmen Giuseppe and Gennaro Sarao, Nicolas De Turris and Antonio Laurentis made the most beautiful samples.
Neapolitan manufacturing (?) Basin: Italian 1725-1750 © Compton Verney