The present casket is a rare example of filigree work executed entirely of gold. Most known examples are silver or silver-gilt, with only one other gold example - a domed casket attributed to Goanese workshops of the 16th century - in the Museo Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon (see The Heritage of Rauluchantim, loc. cit.).
Filigree - from the Latin words filum (thread) and granum (grain) - is a delicate process that involves the drawing out of metal such as silver or gold into increasingly fine threads that can then be rolled, bent or braided into intricate openwork patterns. In a recent exhibition devoted to the subject held in Amsterdam (Silver - Wonders of the East, Filigree of the Tsars, loc. cit.), the filigree objects from the Russian Imperial collections were re-assembled from the different Russian museums and storerooms throughout which they had been dispersed over the years to regain a sense of the importance and magnificence of filigree objects in European royal and princely collections.
In the exhibition catalogue, the authors stress the importance of the trade routes between Europe, the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia travelled by the East India Companies, and note the transmission of artistic trends between such centres as Macau, Batavia and Goa. As a result, attribution to a particular centre can often be difficult due to this artistic fluidity.
The most relevant comparison from the exhibition for the present casket reflects this ambiguity. Of slightly larger proportions but virtually identical form, there is a silver casket which may once have belonged to Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (ibid, no. 1, pp. 43-43, 102). It is catalogued as dating from the mid-seventeenth century and having been executed 'in China or by Chinese masters in the Spanish or Portuguese colonies in South East Asia'. However, another casket with an identical body but more elaborate lid is catalogued as 'Goa (?) with the help of Chinese masters (?) (ibid, no. 37, pp. 43, 111-112).
The insistence on including the presence of Chinese craftsmen, even for objects which seem to have been created in other geographic centres, may reflect a bias on the part of the exhibition organisers. Certainly, the form of the present casket, with its distinctive bracket feet and forked hasp, has parallels among objects of entirely Indian manufacture such as a Mughal enamel casket of the early 18th century in the Khalili collection (The Arts of Islam, op. cit., no. 248). It seems more likely that the casket offered here was created in Goa in the second half of the 17th century. It could then have been transported to Europe via the trade routes travelled by the sailboats of the East India companies and eventually entered the collection of a wealthy connoisseur.