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Basin

  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (possibly, made)
    Syria (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Brass, hammered and chased, overlaid with silver

  • Museum number:

    741-1898

  • Gallery location:

    Islamic Middle East, Room 42, The Jameel Gallery, case 5

The shape of this vessel is typical of the Mamluk period, the era from 1250 to 1517 when the Muslim Mamluk dynasty ruled Egypt and Syria. Such vessels were used primarily to contain water. However, this example is decorated in a style known as ‘Veneto-Saracenic’. This type of metalwork has been the subject of ongoing scholarly debate as to whether it was produced in Venice or in Mamluk Syria and Egypt, and by Muslim or Venetian metalworkers. Venice during this period traded, and fought, extensively with the Turkish and Arab empires that bordered the Mediterranean basin. Venetian merchants brought to the city Near Eastern craftsmen and goods, which had an immediate influence on the indigenous population and eventually on the rest of Europe. But according to some recent research, there is no concrete evidence to state that such metalwork can be attributed to Muslim craftsmen working in 15th-century Venice, especially since the Venetian guild system would not have tolerated foreign craftsmen. It has also been suggested that two groups can be distinguished within the decorative repertoire of Veneto-Saracenic ware: one that can be attributed to Damascus and the other to Cairo. The linear use of inlay, the background decoration of scrolling stems, and the areas highlighted in silver on this basin all suggest that it belongs to the group made in Cairo in the 15th century.

Physical description

Circular brass basin with sloping sides and damascened in silver; the outer surface is engraved with elaborate arabesques foliage and is divided by silver lines into bands and compartments interspersed with knots and foliage. The design on the bottom of the basin has six lobed compartments radiating from a cluster of stems and spreading outwards in six repeating divisions; the whole is enclosed in a border of knotted quatrefoils. The decoration on the side of the basin is arranged in a broad band of six divisions above which a narrow band encircles the lip, the edge of the latter being also engraved with foliage. The interior of the bowl is enriched with a circular medallion of foliage springing from a star-shaped centre.

Place of Origin

Egypt (possibly, made)
Syria (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 1450-1500 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Brass, hammered and chased, overlaid with silver

Dimensions

Height: 15.9 cm, Diameter: 46.7 cm

Object history note

The shape of this vessel is typical of the Mamluk period used primarily for to contain water.

Historical context note

Veneto-Saracenic metalwork has been the subject of ongoing scholarly debate over whether these objects were produced in Venice or in Mamluk Syria and Egypt by either Muslim or Venetian craftsmen. According to recent research by Hans Huth, the theory that much of this metalwork may be attributed to Muslim craftsmen working in 15th century Venice lacks any concrete evidence, moreover the Venetian guild system would not have tolerated the presence of foreign craftsmen on Venetian soil. James Allan has suggested that two groups based on decorative repertoire may be identified reattributing this ware to the Near East, specifically to Damascus and Cairo. Based on its linear use of inlay, background decoration of scrolling stems and areas highlighted in silver, this vessel would belong to the group made in 15th century Cairo. Comparisons with Cairene Quran decoration of the 15th century suggest this.

Descriptive line

Brass basin with 'Veneto-Saracenic' decoration in silver, Egypt or Syria, ca. 1450-1500.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

J. Allan, Metalwork of the Islamic World. The Aron Collection. London, 1986.

Labels and date

Brass Basin
Egypt or Syria
1450-1500

The rounded bottom and inward-sloping sides are typical of basins made in Egypt and Syria in the late 15th century. The decoration in the Veneto-Saracenic style is very similar to the bucket on the left, which was signed by Zayn al-Din. The basin must therefore have been produced in the Middle East rather than Italy.

Brass and silver wire

Museum no. 741-1898 [Jameel Gallery]

Production Note

Wares like this are often attributed to Italy, but both the shape and decoration are typical of Egypt and Syria in the late 15th century.

Materials

Brass; Silver

Techniques

Chasing; Hammering

Subjects depicted

Knots; Quatrefoils; Arabesques; Foliage

Categories

Metalwork

Collection

Middle East Section

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