Probably Pasto, Colombia, in the then- Viceroyalty of Peru. Late Seventeenth/ Early Eighteenth Century.


Box A: Height: 9" (23 cm) Width: 13 1/4" (33.5 cm) Depth: 7" (17.5 cm) Box B: Height 8 3/4" (22 cm) Width: 13 1/4" (33.5 cm) Depth: 6 3/4" (17 cm)

Of barniz de Pasto lacquer and silver mounts. Of rectangular form with domed lid, decorated on all sides with a geometric border enclosing flowers and foliage, and animals. Each corner fitted with silver mounts, and the sides and top fitted with silver handles. The whole raised on silver shell-form feet. Slight difference in size. Minor restorations to lacquer, one silver foot and circular backplate replaced.

The present pair of caskets is an outstanding example of eighteenth century barniz de Pasto furniture produced in Colombia and Ecuador during the Spanish colonization of South America. With the exception of Portuguese-controlled Brazil, the continent was ruled by the Spanish as the Viceroyalty of Peru from the mid-sixteenth century. The conquest was led in the 1520s and 1530s by Francisco Pizzaro, who defeated the Incan emperor Atahualpa at Cuzco and took over the Empire. Pizzaro set up the new capital at Lima, but the Viceroyalty was not fully established until the arrival of Francisco de Toledo in 1572. As viceroy, de Toledo acted as the king’s representative in the new world and oversaw the administration of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which was broken down into audencias (a body of magistrates who served as judges), gobernaciones (districts managed by a governor), and corregimientos (districts with an appointed mayor). He implemented various reforms regarding the religious conversion and labor requirements of the Incas and promoted economic development though the exploitation of natural resources, namely silver mines. When the house of Bourbon rose to the Spanish crown, they separated the territory to improve its administration and in 1717 created the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included the present-day countries of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, and parts of Peru.

The caskets are decorated using a type of lacquer called barniz de Pasto, named for the southern Colombian town of San Jean de Pasto, one of the first centers of production, and the probable origin of this pair. The primary ingredient of this lacquer is mopa mopa, a pale-green resin derived from a tropical tree of the same name. To create the lacquer, small amounts of the resin were chewed or boiled, and organic pigments, made from plants and minerals, were embedded through kneading or chewing. These included indigo, annatto, saffron and lead oxide. The material was then boiled again until “sufficiently elastic to stretch into thin sheets,”1 which was done by two artisans, who pulled the mopa mopa from opposite ends with their hands and teeth. Decorative designs were cut out from the resulting sheets and applied to the wooden surfaces of household objects with heat, which, once cooled, formed a permanent and waterproof bond. The cut-outs could be stacked to create a design in relief, or incised to add further detail. Sometimes the thin sheets of lacquer were stretched over silver or gold leaf “to create a translucent sheen to these objects,”2 a technique referred to as barniz brillante. Figure 1 depicts two indigenous artisans at work creating objects in barniz de pasto, after a drawing by Achille Sirouy, illustrated in Édouard François André’s “L’Amerique equinoxiale” in Le Tour du Monde, 1879.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.