Gold Nielloware: The Crown Jewel of Thai Craftsmanship

If asked to name an object that epitomizes craftsmanship, most antiques collectors would likely refer to “Khrueang Thom”, a highly-coveted class of nielloware.

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Ornamented with pure gold embellishments, Khrueang Thom is similar to a Western metalworking technique, repoussé, in which designs are hammered into relief on a malleable metal surface. However, the process of creating Khrueang Thom is more complicated due to its design and delicacy, which marked its place in the annals of Western art history.

The Origin of Thom Thong

In the 1982 edition of the Royal Institute Dictionary, “Thom” is defined as a “vessel or decorative object coated with a black enamel-like substance called niello (an alloy of copper, lead and silver mixed with borax), and polished to reveal the design engraved in relief on its surface”, such as Khrueang Thom Nakhon, Thom Ngeun (silver niello), Thom Thong (gold niello).

Nevertheless, due to the discovery of the Gold Nielloware’s presence in the Ayutthaya period, scholars believe that Thai artisans assimilated the technique of niello metalworking from Portuguese or Persian travelers during the reign of King Borommatrailokkanat (1448-1488), contemporaneous with the Renaissance era in 15th century Europe. One of the four Ayutthaya kingdoms visited by these merchants was Nakhon Si Thammarat, which soon after became a renowned center of niello production: distinguished by the lustrous sheen of its niello, ‘Khrueang Thom Nakhon’ is an exemplary form of nielloware. Local silversmiths mastered the craft through nielloware competitions, which elevated the sophistication of Khrueng Thom Nakhon to the caliber for which it is known today.

A Vassal of Thai Culture

The unmatched beauty of nielloware has a longstanding history as the Thai monarchy’s preferred tribute to foreign rulers and nobles. Evidence shows that Thai ambassadors of King Narai the Great (1656 - 1688) gifted the Pope with nielloware in Rome. The tradition has continued since then, with King Rama V (1853 - 1910), who conferred several pieces of nielloware to the Smithsonian Institute in the United States of America, and King Rama IX (1946 - 2016), who gifted a lidded niello vessel to former president George W. Bush in 2003.

This history is embedded in the fine linework of Thai Nielloware that, to this day, retains the gilded brilliance of this nation’s culture and craftsmanship that enchants Thai and international collectors.

Lot 715
A carved and repousse' silver stud tray decorated with floral design (1 pc.)

Style: Thai, Rattanakosin
Dimensions: Thai, Rattanakosin
Circa: 19th Century
Estimated Price: 30,000 - 40,000 THB