A miniature Ottoman gold pilgrim flask, Turkey, 18th century
- 10.8cm. height
Believed to enhance physical and spiritual well-being, water from the Zamzam spring plays an important role in the Hajj, and is often brought home for honoured guests and loved ones. Although every year Zamzam water would be brought back to the Ottoman palace in large quantities, the size of the present container suggests a more intimate, personal use. A small number of flasks produced for the Ottoman elite still exist and are in the Topkapi Palace Museum as well as in European collections such as the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. no. C.28) and the Moscow Kremlin (inv. no. TK.2882), where they had originally been sent as diplomatic gifts, notably to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (r.1576-1612) and to Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich respectively (see Roxburgh 2005, p.365, no.357 and Levykin 2009, pp.66-7).
Supreme among all Ottoman mataras is the gold vessel which survives in Topkapi Palace Treasury (inv. no. 2/3825, see Atil 1987, p.123). Set with fabulous jewels, this was a royal commission made for Suleyman the Magnificent (r.1520-66) or his son, Selim II (r.1566-74). The flask held the Sultan's drinking water and was carried during court processions. The present container belongs to this group of pious luxury wares produced for the Ottoman elite and executed with the utmost refinement.