South of Italy, or Trapani, Sicily

Trapani Casket



South of Italy, or Trapani, Sicily


Trapani Casket


About 1700–1750


Coral and mother-of-pearl inlay with semi-precious stones


19 x 55 x 44 cm






On Display

Materials from the sea were often used by Southern Italian craftsmen: this precious casket is decorated with leaves carved from mother-of-pearl and coral and its edges are veneered with tortoiseshell. The lid is decorated with brightly-coloured semi-precious stones, and conceals a lockable secret compartment. The casket may have been used to store important letters, or jewels. . Among the precious stones on this casket is jasper, which was very popular in box-making, from grand caskets like this to tiny snuff boxes. Another precious, orange-coloured stone is agate, which was widespread and easy to find in Southern Sicily. The blue stone used on the corners is lapis lazuli, which was at times considered more valuable than gold. Lapis lazuli means "beyond the sea' and reflects the difficulties of importing it from Northern Afghanistan. From Afghanistan, lapis lazuli travelled through Baghdad, Damascus, and Cyprus, arriving in Europe first in Genoa and later in Venice, which became the centre of its trade. Extraction and manufacturing difficulties increased the value of this mineral which, from the Renaissance onwards, was often associated with the colour of heaven and truth, and was requested by the church as well as wealthy patrons. The names of the maker and patron of this casket are unknown, but it is possible that it was made in Trapani, Sicily, an area rich in red coral, and famous for the production of such objects. However, this casket also closely relates to works of art made at the Grand Ducal workshops in Florence around 1700, suggesting that it could have been possibly presented to the Medici family, to whose arms’ colour the agate plate in the centre of the lid seems to allude. Although rare, it is still possible to find similar examples in European royal collections.

South of Italy, or Trapani, Sicily Trapani Casket About 1700–1750 © Compton Verney

Trapani Casket c1700-50 © Compton Verney

Trapani Casket c1700-50 © Compton Verney