Object Place: Probably Peru, South America
Overall: 24 x 15.2 x 6 cm (9 7/16 x 6 x 2 3/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The raised spherical form of a bird is hinged at the back; the cast head is soldered to the upper portion of the sphere. The fantail is used as a fulcrum when opening the body. The wings are made separately and attached with wire. The cast legs are soldered to the body and bolted to the base, which consists of a square plinth with a domed center. Cast leaves form the feet of the plinth. The whole is raised and chased.
The turkey, native to both North and South America, has been the subject of countless images by indigenous and colonial peoples. Eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century silversmiths were particularly fond of portraying it in the sculptural form of a sahumador, or brazier, that was used to perfume the air. Often made in the shape of llamas, peacocks, and other animals, braziers featured hinged bodies that were opened by pressing on the tail or some other mechanical method. Embers glowed from within, and ash fell to a salver that supported the figure. Smoke escaped via small air holes cut into the back of the bird or, on filigreed forms, through wires.
In size, girth, and general appearance, this turkey-shaped container is similar to those described above. It can be opened in the same manner, revealing a small cavity such as those used for burning incense. However, this example lacks the air holes necessary to be effectively used as a brazier. Furthermore, it lacks a proper salver to catch stray embers.
Some scholars have speculated that hinged objects such as this were made to serve a different purpose, perhaps to hold a store of incense or sweets. If they held the latter, they were called confiteras. It seems more likely that they were made as echoes of an older way of life, retaining a vestige of function even as they took on a new decorative role. These vessels probably date to the late nineteenth century, by which time they were long separated from their original purpose.
This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.
January 5, 1976, sold by Alphonse Jax (dealer), New York, to Landon T. Clay, Boston; 2001, year-end gift of Landon T. Clay to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 23, 2002)
Gift of Landon T. Clay