Rijksmuseum Acquisition: Glass Engraved with Plantation Scene

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 12, 2011

Press release from the Rijksmuseum:

Rijksmuseum Acquires Surinamese Occasional Glass

The Rijksmuseum has acquired an extremely rare 18th-century glass engraved with a scene depicting the Surinamese sugar plantation Siparipabo and the text ‘t welvaren van Siparipabo’ [‘The Prosperity of Siparipabo’]. The magnificent, detailed engravings are partly polished. Once the Rijksmuseum’s main building reopens, the glass will be given a prominent place among the 18th-century works of art, telling the story of Surinam’s plantation economy. Plantation owners in Surinam and Europe used glasses such as these to toast the prosperity of their possessions; in this case, the prosperity of the Siparipabo sugar plantation in Surinam. The plantation is first mentioned on a map dated 1686, on which it is depicted adjacent to the River Commewijne. The glass was probably ordered at the beginning of the 18th century by the owner of the plantation, Catharina Marcus, widow of Willem Pedij d’Oude. The engraver based his depiction on engravings from the book Beschryvinge van de volks-plantinge Zuriname (‘Description of the Surinam People’s Plantation’) by J. D. Herlein, which was published in 1718. One scene depicts a female slave resting under a tree and a male slave with a shovel and a sheaf of sugar cane. The other scene shows the plantation owner’s house, the sugar mill and the slave huts. The engraver has expertly depicted the original print in glass, allowing for the tapered shape of the goblet. He added vitality to the engraving by polishing certain parts. The detail of the little huts in the background, for example, is not as precise as the detail of the sugar mill in the foreground.

From the moment when the Netherlands exchanged Surinam as a colony for New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1667, the Dutch took African men and women there to work as slaves on the plantations (approximately 100,000 in the 17th century and approx. 400,000 in the 18th century). By 1775, there were around 600 plantations in Surinam, most of which were for sugar. There were still around 35,000 slaves in the colony when the Netherlands abolished slavery in 1863.

Eveline Sint Nicolaas, Curator in the Rijksmuseum’s History Department, explains: ‘When I first saw the glass I knew immediately that it was very special. There are only a few glasses that refer to Surinamese plantations and the combination with the prominently featured slaves near the sugar mill makes this a very special acquisition. The text and the scenes depicted also set one thinking. Why does it say ‘prosperous’ (‘welvaren’)? Hopefully it will soon have the same effect on the museum’s visitors. Apart from this item, there are very few objects in the collection that depict slavery in the former colonies, which is why the glass will have an important place among the 18th- century objects in the new Rijksmuseum’.