1. Empires beyond the Great Wall: the Heritage of Genghis Kahn, Museum of National History, New York, 1994, ill. 66, p. 104.
2. Luis Castelo Lopes, 'O fantastico na ourivesaria - o Caquesseitao', il Colóquio Português de orivesaria, Escola das Artes da Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP), 26-28 September 2008.
The animal Caquessetaio, or 'ancestors of the devil', was first recorded by the celebrated Portuguese explorer Fernao Mendes Pinto (c. 1509-1583) in his Peregrinacao or Pilgrimages, published posthumusly in Lisbon in 1614: "we also saw here what was for us a very unusual and strange-looking animal that the natives call Caquesseitao, about the size of a big duck, deep black in colour, covered with scales, a row of spines runing down the back...., wings like a bat and a very long, greenish-black tail.... These creatures ... fly as though leaping through the air". The animal which Pinto saw is now thought to be a fruit bat, commonly referred to as the 'flying fox', but his extraordinary description was coloured by earlier mythological beasts found in Oriental and Western art, such as a Chinese faience aquamanile from the Liao dynasty (907-1125)1.
The specific form of the Caquesseitao however, with bird-like feet, scale-chased body, dragon head, prominent tongue and hinged wings, was a recurrent and popular ornament particularly in Indo-Portuguese Art in the late 17th-early 18th century. For example, two 17th century Indo-Portuguese bed-covers, a Portuguese silver salver, circa 1690-1720 and an Indo-Portuguese tortoiseshell casket, 17th century are all decorated with the image of the Caquesseitao. The model was also developed in silver, its natural shape adapting easily for pourin water as an aquamanile. 7 silver models of Caquesseiato are recorded, including the present example. The majority are in private Portuguese collections, one is in the Musée National de la Renaissance, Château d'Ecouen. Four of these have pierced sides and detachable covers, traditionally thought to be used for burning incense. Buut their function could be as well for pouring and keeping water hot. Silver Caquesseitao were particularly prized: the king of Portugal Dom Fernando II kept one in his study in the Palaccio das Necessidades, the Russian prince Feliz Youssopov had one which was confiscated after the Russian Revolution, and Baron James de Rothschild's is now in the Musee d'Ecouen.
Manuel Teles da Silva (1641-1709), 2nd Earl of Vila Maior, became first Marquis de Alegrete in 1687, after negociating the marriage of King Dom Pedro II of Portugal (1648-1706) with Maria Sofia of the Palatinate (1666-1699). He participated in the battle of Ameixal in 1663 during the Portuguese Restoration War, and was made colonel at the age of 27. He was one of the negociators of the Methuen Treaty in 1703, a commercial treaty which cemented the relationship between Portugal and England. The Marques built a farm called Quinta Alegrete, which is now part of the Portuguese National Heritage.
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