London, England, United Kingdom
The British Museum
About hegira 800 / AD 1400
Sheet brass engraved and inlaid with silver.
Diameter 55 cm
A circular brass tray decorated with inlaid silver. In the centre sits a raised area in the form of an eight-sided cartouche containing floral elements, within which is a shield with three bulls’ heads. Around this central cartouche are four roundels depicting hunting scenes between complex lotus-blossom designs and confronting phoenixes. Enclosing the figurative panel is a geometric frieze. Under the rim are pairs of ducks within lobed cartouches. A frieze of running animals and flying birds fills the rim.
Since the 19th century metal objects of this type came to be known as ‘Veneto-Saracenic’ as it was thought that they were produced in Venice by Muslim craftsmen. However, it is now widely believed by scholars that these vessels were produced in Syria in a style to suit the European market. These wares were probably made in Damascus, where there was a thriving metalwork industry during the Mamluk era. The raised area in the centre suggests the tray would have been used to hold a ewer or chalice.
The raised central area of this circular tray suggests it was used for holding a ewer or chalice. Inlaid metal objects, such as this tray, adapted to suit European tastes, were known as ‘Veneto-Saracenic’. They were probably made in Syria before being exported to Europe.
The shield in the centre of the tray indicates that it was made for export to Italy. By the end of the 8th / 14th century, when trade with Europe increased, metalwork vessels were made in greater numbers, often with blank shields to be filled in after export. The shape of this tray with a raised centre was a new form introduced specifically for the European market in the late 8th / 14th and early 9th / 15th centuries.
Bequeathed to the British Museum by John Henderson in 1878.
There is no general consensus on where these objects were produced. However, it seems likely that this type of inlaid metalwork – with a coat of arms and a European form – were made in Syria specifically for the European market. In Syria there was a strong tradition of inlaid metalwork and a flourishing trade with Europe.
Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pp.116–7, plate 93.
Emily Shovelton "Tray" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus01;30;en
Prepared by: Emily ShoveltonEmily Shovelton
Emily Shovelton is a historian of Islamic art. She studied history of art at Edinburgh University before completing an MA in Islamic and Indian art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Since graduating she has worked on a number of projects at the British Museum. Other recent work includes editing and writing for a digital database of architectural photographs at the British Library. She is currently working on a Ph.D. on “Sultanate Painting in 15th-century India and its relationship to Persian, Mamluk and Indian Painting”, to be completed at SOAS in 2006. A paper on Sultanate painting given at the Conference of European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, held in the British Museum in July 2005, is due to be published next year.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK1 36
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Mamluks | The Wider World: Diplomatic Contacts and International Trade
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
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