A knot box
This exceptionally well engraved marriage box stands on three smooth ball feet while its cover and sides are finely engraved with scenes from the Old Testament related to marriage.
The centre of the detachable cover is delicately engraved with the Wedding at Kana. The sides are finely engraved with three scenes from the Old Testament.
First of all, the story of Abraham who asks his servant to find the perfect wife for his son Isaac. He meets her at a well where she supplies him and his camels with water (Rebecca at the well, Gen. C 24).
Secondly, the story of Jacob who is known from the conflict with his brother Esau. He also arrives at a well and sees Rachel. She had come to the well to water her father’s sheep. It was love at first sight: ‘And Jacob kissed Rachel and raised his voice and cried… (Rachel and Jacob Gen. C 29).
And lastly, the expedition of David, the shepherd who became a king, who defeated Goliath, but found love with Abigail, the wife of an ungenerous farmer who refused David hospitality, food and drink. Abigail nourishes him, her farmer gets a heart attack, and David and Abigail fall in each other’s arms (Abigail, wife of Nahal, offers David gifts 1 Sa.Ca.25 (Samuel 25)).
Indeed, all stories describe a certain struggle in finding love.
Nowadays, when a gentleman plans to propose to his beloved in style, he will book a four-day trip to Venice to get down on one knee on the San Marco square. In the old days, in the 17th century, this was done differently. Especially in Frisia. With a marriage casket.
To understand something about a typical Frisian tradition about marriages, we will read a part of the text of the Catalogue of the Exhibition of Antique Gold and Silverware held in the Friesch Museum from 15 August until 15 September 1927:
“Also in the old Frisian legislation there is mention of … the purchase price (of the woman) and even the amount is dictated. Because of various developments, young women obtained more and more rights, and got, although only limited, some say about her own heart and hand and the man no longer had to buy her from her father or guardian.
However, with the loss of this right of sale, the traditions connected with it were not abandoned. The ‘purchase price’ was now paid freely and directly to the bride…
Gradually, this took the shape of a gift of money with the marriage proposal.”
If a young man intended to marry a girl, he offered her a cloth, the so-called ‘knot-cloth’. In this cloth, he put the purchase price and tied the cloth loosely. If the girl tightened the knot she accepted his offer and his love: ‘To tie the knot’.
More affluent couples preferred radiance and durability in the shape of silver.
The silver was used to commission a beautiful box with a local silversmith. The costly product was made even more valuable by stocking it with silver or even gold coins. To embellish this gift, the box was finely engraved with scenes, usually taken from the Bible. However, boxes or caskets- as most boxes had the shape of a casket- could also be engraved with mythological scenes.
The scenes were further explained with texts of hope, guidance and especially with vows. It is interesting to look closely at some of such inscriptions:
‘Hout daer Jonck frou die ick bemin en anders gheen
Daer is mijn Trou mijn hart mijn sin naest Godt Alleen’
(‘I love this Lady and no other
My heart will be True to her as it is to God’)
‘Met hert en handen door Liefde groot / wij ons verpanden tot in der doot’
(‘With heart and hands raised by Love We will be together until death’)
‘Beloftet uijt liefde is Trouwe voor Godt / Getrout tot in den doot’
(‘Betrothal out of love is Marriage to God / Married until death’)
‘Dat god toe saemen voeght dat coonen gheen menschen scheiden’
(‘What God brings together cannot be separated by men’)
And a very special one:
‘Daer Twee Trouw Harten sijn in Een / siet men de Haat en Twist vertreen.
Elk trou met Sins Gelijk, Arm met Arm en Rijk met Rijk
Een klokhen mint haer kiekens seer / Maer ik mijn liefste noch veel meer
Niet beter in den Echten Trou / Als liefde tusken man en vrou’
(‘Where Two Faithful Hearts are One / Hate and Spite will be gone.
Each marry his Equal / Poor to Poor and Rich to Rich
A Chicken loves her chicks so / But I my dear even more
Nothing is better in Faithful Union / Than love between man and woman’)
We often see the scene of the Wedding at Kana, where water is transformed into wine. Another popular scene is that of Motherly Love (Caritas), a mother with children by her side. And of course, usually on the cover, the happy couple, hand in hand, often below a heart burning with love.
Sometimes we see a casket with an appropriate mythological scene. For example, that of Paris handing the apple to Venus in the competition between Juno, Minerva and Venus. The beloved Frisian lady with her silver trinket was as victorious as Venus.
The decorations vary in quality. Not every silversmith was an able engraver. And the best quality represents the highest value. That was the case in the 17th century, and it is now.
At TEFAF Maastricht 2019 we will exhibit three exceptional circular marriage boxes with finely engraved decorations.
Private collection, The Netherlands