A rare and important Ottoman parcel-gilt silver Bowl The Balkans, circa 1550
Lot 152
A rare and important repousse Ottoman parcel-gilt silver Bowl
Balkans, circa 1550
Sold for £ 38,400 (US$ 51,213) inc. premium

Lot Details
A rare and important Ottoman parcel-gilt silver Bowl The Balkans, circa 1550 A rare and important Ottoman parcel-gilt silver Bowl The Balkans, circa 1550 A rare and important Ottoman parcel-gilt silver Bowl The Balkans, circa 1550
A rare and important repousse Ottoman parcel-gilt silver Bowl
Balkans, circa 1550
of rounded form with raised central roundel, relief decoration with chased detailing, the centre depicting a stag being attacked by two dogs, a cypress tree to the side, the cavetto with a frieze depicting a Turk leading a caravan on a rope, followed by three gryphons, a deer, a stag, a hare, two hounds, an owl, a bear and a peacock, all within arched-shaped panels with groups of three and two circular motifs, all on a ring matted ground
15.5 cm. diam.; 142g.


  • The Balkan silver tradition and its influence under the Ottoman Empire

    This parcel-gilt silver bowl belongs to a group of bowls depicting animals, produced in the Balkans under Ottoman rule, that were to inspire a whole genre of Iznik ceramics. The Balkans countries were the main source of silver within the Ottoman Empire. Serbia’s richest mine, Novo Brdo, fell to the Turks in 1455 and in 1463 Sultan Mehmet II (The Conqueror) captured Bosnia and its biggest mine, Srebenica. This marks the point at which Ottoman and Balkan styles start to mix.

    The background to the animal design tradition of Ottoman production of metal and ceramic dates back to luxury 14th and 15th Century silver-gilt vessels made with metal from the mines of Serbia, Bosnia and Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik), the principal maritime trade centre in the region, and one or two other towns on the Adriatic coast.

    In the 14th and 15th Centuries, Bosnia, Serbia and Ragusa produced silver work of quite different design. These regional styles became confused and to some extent combined in the Ottoman period when craftsmen were more mobile and worked in a number of centres – Constantinople, Sarajevo and others near the Danube along the Ottoman border, as well as in certain monastic centres of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

    At this time, Ragusa and Bosnia were Catholic countries. Bosnia’s short-lived national church, regarded by Rome as heretical, was Catholic in intention, and was influenced by the Gothic medieval and Renaissance West; Ragusa by Italy; and Bosnia through Anjou Hungary; Serbia by Byzantine Orthodoxy, but it took on Ottoman elements in the 15th Century.

    Stylistically, Ragusan, Bosnian and Serbian silversmiths differ mostly in their depiction of animals. The Ragusan approach favoured particularly bulbous embossing and often depicted the Renaissance classical revival style free-flowing frieze of animals around the walls and also the popular courtly motif of a dog chasing a rabbit. Bosnian wares displayed a Gothic style due to the influence of Hungary, of which it was part until 1377. They showed a fondness for depicting animals within compartments, whether formed by a meandering scroll or vine, or as in the present lot within as stylised arcade of pillars and arches. A popular theme was the 'Garden of Paradise' surrounded by the earth and its creatures, some of which were unusual (the so-called 'Marvels of the East') and hunting scenes. Serbian vessels also used this theme, sometimes showing Paradise personified as a woman wearing a diadem.

    A number of 16th Century Ottoman silver jugs with animals are based on Serbian Paradise symbolism, which fuses with the Ottoman symbolism of the garden, as shown in Iznik animal dishes with green backgrounds and trees and plants. Also, harpies wearing crowns also may relate to earlier Serbian depictions of Paradise as a woman wearing a diadem.

    14th and 15th Century Balkan silver jugs and bowls preserved in monasteries were probably gifts from wealthy patrons rather than specifically made for monastic use. Such vessels were associated with secular drinking, sometimes they were used for sherbert, but more so for wine. A number of dated examples of Balkan silver bowls belong to the reign of Selim I (1566-74), who revoked religious edicts against the drinking of wine. At this time when the production and import of Balkan silver vessels expanded, Iznik potters were making animal dishes, which implies that they had access to these imported silver wares.

    It would seem that the Balkan-Ottoman jugs closest to Iznik design are a mixture of North Balkan styles, with the free-flowing Ragusan style more evident. Some Iznik pieces seem to be actual copies of Ragusan silver, for example the dish with harpies in the Godman Collection in the British Museum (Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, London, 1989, p. 257, no. 539). It is known that a large number of silver vessels were sent by Ragusa to the Ottoman court, where metalworkers from the Balkan countries worked.

    Production of silver of this type was known from the period of Suleiman (1520-66), Selim II (1566-74) and Murad III (1574-95), coinciding with the first appearance of animals on a small number of Iznik wares in the 1520s and 1530s, and then again significantly in the 1560s-80s. These later Iznik animal dishes used designs from the Balkan silver repertoire, such as dragons, dogs, lions, creatures wearing crowns, and the Paradise symbolism was often present. Some dishes depicted processions of creatures around the rims, a feature seen in the present lot.

    Many of the known examples of 16th Century metalwork used courtly Ottoman floral designs, which were a mixture of Chinese, Persian and Byzantine flower forms. The decorative arts of the 16th Century do not combine court style flowers with animals, except in silver and Iznik pottery, evidence of the Balkan contribution and influence.

    The current lot displays this combination with a trail of floral sprays below the animals' feet that can be compared to the decoration on a group of bowls attributed to the 16th Century in the Hungarian National Museum, Budapest, excavated in the Southern part of Hungary, near the Serbian border (Suleyman The Magnificent and His Age, exhibition catalogue, Budapest, 7th September 1994 – 8th January 1995, nos. 68-74). The same floral sprays can be seen on a vine on a jug attributed to the early 16th Century that was sold at Sotheby's (Islamic and Indian Art, Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures, London, 22nd and 23rd October 1992, lot 169).

    In terms of overall composition, the closest comparison can be drawn with a silver-gilt bowl of the late 15th/ early 16th Century in the Savina Monastery, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, (Marian Wenzel, "Early Ottoman Silver and Iznik Pottery Design" in Apollo, September 1989, p.159, fig I). Other vessels with similar animal depictions are illustrated in this same article (op. cit., figs I-V); and also on a tankard, attributed to Macedonia, circa 1550, sold at Sotheby's, which has horizontal registers of animals (Sotheby's, Islamic Works of Art, London, 10th October 1991, lot 351).

    For a comprehensive discussion of the subject and examples, see the seminal paper on the subject by Marian Wenzel, "Early Ottoman Silver and Iznik Pottery Design" in Apollo, September 1989, pp. 159-65.
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