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A ‘VENETO-SARACENIC’ BUCKET
A ‘VENETO-SARACENIC’ BUCKET
A ‘VENETO-SARACENIC’ BUCKET
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A ‘VENETO-SARACENIC’ BUCKET
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VAT rate of 20% is payable on hammer price and buy… Read more AN IMPORTANT 'VENETO-SARACENIC' BUCKET SIGNED BY THE CELEBRATED MASTER MAHMUD AL-KURDI
A ‘VENETO-SARACENIC’ BUCKET

SIGNED BY MAHMUD AL-KURDI, EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN OR POSSIBLY DIYARBEKIR OR WEST IRAN, LATE 15TH OR EARLY 16TH CENTURY

Details
A ‘VENETO-SARACENIC’ BUCKET
SIGNED BY MAHMUD AL-KURDI, EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN OR POSSIBLY DIYARBEKIR OR WEST IRAN, LATE 15TH OR EARLY 16TH CENTURY
The body finely worked with intricate geometric and arabesque designs within a geometric lattice in silver beneath a narrow band of scrolls, two cartouches with signature of Mahmud al-Kurdi, the base with further bands of arabesques, each base of the handle in the form of two gazelle heads with arabesques, some losses to silver, overall good condition
9in. (22.8cm.) diam.
Provenance
By repute UK West country dealer (d.c.1980) from whom purchased in the 1960s or 1970s by the father of the previous owner.
Special notice

VAT rate of 20% is payable on hammer price and buyer's premium
Sale room notice
Please note that the provenance for this lot should read as follows: By repute UK West country dealer (d.c.1980) from whom purchased in the 1960s or 1970s by the father of the previous owner.

The USA prohibits the purchase by US persons of Iranian-origin “works of conventional craftsmanship” such as carpets, textiles, decorative objects, and scientific instruments. The US sanctions apply to US persons regardless of the location of the transaction or the shipping intentions of the US person. For this reason, Christie’s will not accept bids by US persons on this lot. Non-US persons wishing to import this lot into the USA are advised that they will need to apply for an OFAC licence and that this can take many months to be granted.

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Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam
Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam Head of Sale

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Lot Essay

This is a remarkable work of art, a bucket signed by the most famous maker of all of this exceptionally decorated group of late 15th or early 16th century metalwork. It brings to a total of eleven the number of pieces that are signed by him and completely accepted as his work. Until the appearance of this bucket there were three salvers, six boxes of various forms and a single bucket (Sylvia Auld, Renaissance Venice, Islam, and Mahmud the Kurd, a metalworking enigma, London, 2004, p.12 lists the details of eight, to which one salver and one round-bottomed box have been added). The style bears all his hallmarks, from the intricately worked background scrolls, the clear simple frequently straight silver overlaid lined dividing panels, and of course the prominently placed signature of the master, Mahmud al-Kurdi. It has survived in very good condition, with the majority of the silver remaining in place, reminding the viewer quite how impressive the work on these vessels is.
While it is now considered an antiquated term, it is still useful to refer to the larger group of vessels decorated in this and related styles as ‘Veneto-Saracenic’. No better term has been proposed that could replace it, and what is does clearly indicate is that these are vessels which frequently straddle the European and Islamic traditions. When choosing to write about this entire group of metalwork, Sylvia Auld, who has probably studied more in this area than anybody else, divided it into two separate main Islamic sub-groups, allowing a third sub-group of items which were probably made in a very similar style but in Italy by Italian craftsmen (Auld, op.cit.). She was by no means the first to distinguish between the two Islamic sub-groups; James Allan had done so in his article twenty years earlier (James Allan, “Cairo, Damascus or Venice”, in Metalwork of the Islamic World, the Aron Collection, London, 1986, pp.48-61). Others have also written on aspects of the subject, especially Doris Behrens-Abouseif (“Veneto-Saracenic Metalware, a Mamluk Art”, in Mamluk Studies Review, Chicago, vol.IX, no.2, 2005, pp.147-172), Rachel Ward (“Veneto-Saracenic Metalworks: An Analysis of the Bowls and Incense Burners in the British Museum”, in Trade and Discovery, the Scientific Study of Post-Mediaeval Artefacts from Europe and Beyond, London, 1995, pp.235-257) and Souren Melikian-Chirvani (“Venise, entre l’orient et l’occident”, Bulletin d'études orientales, 1974, T. 27 (1974), pp. 109-126, who gives details of earlier writing on the subject). All have addressed in some way the difference between the smaller group of vessels decorated with very fine scrolling grounds, associated with all the signatures of the master craftsmen Mahmud al-Kurdi, Muhammad, and Zain al-Din and the much larger group of vessels decorated very frequently with pronounced knotted motifs of broader drawing. The origin of the second group is now relatively securely placed in the Mamluk empire, probably refining that to Damascus, as proposed by James Allan. The origin of the first group, to which our bucket belongs, is not so secure. Originally it had been proposed, and accepted for decades, that the vessels of this group were made by Muslim craftsmen working in Venice. However in 1970 Hans Huth demonstrated that this was almost impossible given the laws controlling craftsmen in the city, a view that has not been strongly challenged since. (Hans Huth, “’Sarazenen’ in Venedig?” in Festschrift für Heinz Landendorf, Cologne/Vienna, 1972, pp.58-68). Different authorities have proposed various alternative origins, including Cairo, Diyabekir, Tabriz and Western Iran. While the majority view is probably that they were made somewhere in the Mamluk Empire, there are still elements of the argument that remain unsettled. The cohesiveness of the group, the fact that this group and not the other is clearly the main influence on the Venetian craftsmen working in the style, indicating that it was only really this group that was exported to Venice, and potentially onwards, the fact that no examples of the group are known with old provenances within the Islamic World, the fact that many of the shapes are only known in European prototypes (salvers and buckets of these proportions) the virtual absence of inscriptions other than the signatures (there are a very few inscriptions identified by Abou-Seif which indicate a Mamluk origin either of the craftsmen or of the manufacture), the very prominence of the signatures, as seen here on the bucket, and the fact that one vessel bears a signature transliterated into Western characters, makes the explanation of “a variant school of Mamluk metalwork” slightly unsatisfactory.
Wherever the group was made, the style’s best known and most prolific proponent, as well as one of the two most accomplished, is the master Mahmud al-Kurdi. Auld has noted that it is frequently possible to determine the designs that master Mahmud uses from the design he chooses for the centre bottom of a bowl for example. When examining the current bucket however she observed considerable greater variety of motifs than normal “a single motif is not, however, found on this bucket, although individual elements are repeated”. A considerable amount of the surface is his ‘trademark’ extremely finely engraved scrolling interlace, in various forms. However the underside of the base has a roundel that has engraving leaving much of the metal plain, far more in the taste of the Italians than any Islamic prototype. Having described in detail the different bands of decoration, Auld continues “It is difficult to convey the delicacy of the work; a magnifying glass is needed to appreciate it. It represents many hours of detailed work. And, indeed, part of the purpose of the bucket must have been to delight an appreciative owner and to demonstrate his taste and affluence. The metals in themselves are not expensive but are carefully arranged to make the most of colour and contrast. It is the skill in the execution of the work which gave (and gives) the object its value. It is true too that the name of Master Mahmud must have added worth in the land of his employment. This is demonstrated by the prominence of the signature. It is already exceptional to have so large a corpus of signed works by a mediaeval master; to be able to add yet another is truly exciting” (communication to the owner, January 2019).

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