The distinctive technique of piqué marquetry is thought to have originated in Naples at the end of the 16th Century. The tortoiseshell is softened and then either pierced with a needle, or as in the case of this box, cut with shallow indents, to receive gold, tortoiseshell or horn inlay. It was particularly popular in the eighteenth century and there are numerous references in contemporary sale catalogues and advertisements, with Naples and Paris remaining the principal production centers. Queen Charlotte,consort to King George III, had a famous collection of picay work (see G.de Bellaigue, The James A. De Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: Furniture,Clocks and Gilt Bronzes, 1974, vol.II, p.838), while Robert Adam is recorded as having bought 'three very handsome snuff-boxes of yellow and black tortoiseshell studded with gold...' on a visit to Naples in 1755 (see J.Fleming,Robert Adam and his Circle, 1962, p.157).
A toilet set inlaid with classical ruins closely related to the marquetry on this box was sold Christie's London, 8 December, 1994, lot 502, while two trays inlaid with picturesque buildings and figures
are at Waddesdon (see de Bellaigue op.cit., figs.231-2). Another coffret à doucine inlaid in silver and gold with exotic buildings, was sold Drouot Montaigne, Paris, 16 June 1994, lot 30. Other boxes, possibly of German origin with chinoiserie designs after Johan Nieuhof, were sold in these Rooms from the collection of Elizabeth Parke Firestone, 22 March 1994, lot 857 and from a Family Collection, 26 April 1994, lot 158. The compact form of this box and the style of its dense foliate inlay would suggest an early nineteenth century date.