This impressive, large, and finely engraved bronze serving bowl was made in Venice or her Empire between circa 1550 and 1600. It relates closely to a category of metalwork traditionally known as Veneto-Saracenic ware, which is characterised by the technique of inlaying precious silver, gold or black compound onto brass within intricate and all-consuming decorative schemes of arabesques and other abstract motifs. Initially made in the Levant and Persia and subsequently thought to have been manufactured in Northern Italy, this type of metalwork was much sought-after in Europe during the 15th and 16thcenturies. The fashion for these exotic objects is believed to have been introduced to the Occident through the vibrant trading centre of Renaissance Venice, with her strong links to the Mamluk Sultinate and the Ottoman Empire, and is recorded in numerous contemporary accounts, including the writings of Benvenuto Cellini.
Sylvia Auld, in her canonical work on the subject, Renaissance Venice, Islam and Mahmud The Kurd, has organised the metalwork into three principal categories. The first includes objects dating from the last decades of the Mamluk Sultinate, circa 1450-1517, and is characterised by decoration in the form of geometric interlace, the use of European object shapes and the absence of inscriptions. The second group was probably made for export to Europe by Iranian or Turkish masters and is recognisable through the use of silver wire inlays which expand across the surface in a ‘curvilinear network of medallions and scrolls’ (Contadini, op. cit., p. 312). The third group constitutes European imitations, possibly made by Muslim craftsmen living in Venice, but probably the work of Venetian masters creating free interpretations in a fashionable Eastern style. These European wares use the same inlay technique and a similar decorative vocabulary of arabesques and interlace, but are distinct in the way the decoration is laid out: compartmentalised within definite borders as opposed to stretching out seemingly infinitely.
The present bowl relates to the so-called Veneto-Saracenic tradition in covering all visible surfaces in beautifully incised and intricate decorative motifs. However, as with the majority of such metalwork made in Venice from the middle of the 16th century, the present bowl is made of bronze with applied silver decoration. This use of silver decoration is directly inspired by the Islamic technique of silver inlay. The two tiers of garlands which wrap around the belly of the bowl find a close comparison in those adorning a brass charger inlaid with silver in the Courtauld Gallery (inv. no. O.1966.GP.202), which Auld has categorised as falling into her third group. Note, in particular, the same crossed silver bindings which appear on the garlands at regular intervals. In terms of the grotesque and foliate decoration, which surplant the predominant arabesques in the Islamic metalwares, the present bowl finds strong comparisons in the service with a salver, ewer and eight candlesticks sold in these rooms of 3 December 2014, lot 69 (£122,500 aggregate). The present bowl displays particularly fine engraving and carefully considered details, such as the subtle silver daisies which articulate the undulating scalloped decoration between the bands of garlands.
S. Melikian-Chirvani, Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World. 8-18th Centuries, exh. cat. Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982; J. W. Allan, Metalwork of the Islamic World: The Aron Collection, London, 1986; S. Auld, Renaissance Venice, Islam and Mahmud the Kurd: A metalworking enigma, London, 2004, pp. 7-9, 54-70, 215-267, 288-301; A. Contadini, ‘Middle-Eastern objects,’ M. Ajmar-Wollheim and F. Dennis, At Home in Renaissance Italy, exh. cat. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2006, pp. 308-321; J. Warren, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, vol. i, London, 2016, pp. 318-321, no. 66
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