This remarkable wine bowl, unusually decorated in repoussé both front and back, is a particularly fine example of its type. It was Marian Wenzel who made the compelling argument that this group of vessels was probably produced in, or by craftsmen from, the Balkans (Marian Wenzel, 'Early Ottoman Silver and Iznik Pottery Design', Apollo, September 1989, p.160). The military annexation of the Balkans brought the integration of the rich silver mines of Bosnia and Serbia into the Ottoman Empire, and as a consequence also lured the skilled silversmiths to Istanbul. The Balkan countries were the main source of silver within the Ottoman Empire - Serbia's richest mine, Novo Brdo, fell to the Turks in 1455 and Mehmet the Conqueror captured Bosnia and therein its biggest mine, Srebenica, in 1463. With that the Balkan and Ottoman influences in silver work begin to mix. Marthe Bernus-Taylor highlights the gifting of metalwork from the Balkans to Ottoman Sultans and the Central European stock of a number of the wives, mothers and viziers of the Sultans of the 15th and 16th centuries as further explanation for the strong inter-cultural exchange (Marthe Bernus-Taylor, Turquie au Nom de la Tulipe, Paris, 1993, p.33).
In keeping with the Islamic norm, the animals around the cavetto are seen to be chasing each other around the rim. The Western influence is also clear in the realism with which the animals are depicted. A similar bowl, with a comparable central roundel and similarly rendered cavetto, although with hunting scenes rather than individual chasing animals contained within an arcade, is in the Savina Monestary, in Montenegro (for a line drawing, see Wenzel, op.cit., no. 1, p.159). That example also shared the finely dotted borders around the central roundel and one either side of the cavetto That example has a Ragusan control mark. Another example with a central hunting scene at the centre was sold in Bonham's, 19 April 2007, lot 152.
Although rarely worked as finely as in the bowl offered here, animals contained within compartments or a stylised arcade, are found on a number of related examples. These are generally attributed to Bosnia. Although the regional differences in style between Ragusan, Bosnian and Serbian work began to lessen in the Ottoman period as craftsmen became more mobile, Bosnia was known for its particularly Gothic style. Similar examples with arcaded design in the cavetto have recently sold at Bonham's, 25 October 2007, lot 161 and more recently on 7 October 2010. Three, all dated to the 16th century, are in the Hungarian National Museum (Nos. 1929.36, 1913.13 and 1920.16, Géza Fehér, Craftsmanship in Turkish-Ruled Hungary, Hungary, 1975, nos.45-51). One of these examples is particularly interesting in that it bears an old Slavonic inscription around the rim reading 'this bowl was made by the silversmith Ilyantsi in the year 7082 [1574 AD] in the time of Czar Selim' (Fehér, op.cit., p.20). It was under the reign of Sultan Selim II (1566-74) that religious edicts against the drinking of wine were revoked, and hence this form became more popular.
The tradition of these silver or silver gilt bowls, and jugs, is thought to have been the basis on which elements of form (in the case of jugs) and decoration found on the Iznik wares of the 1560s-80s were founded. This is clearly illustrated in the case of a silver tankard, later sold in these Rooms, 6 October 2009, lot 176, and Iznik jug of similar form and decoration in Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, Iznik. The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, London, 1989, p.276. For further discussion of the subject of these bowls, as well as a examination of their relationship with Iznik pottery, see the article entitled 'Early Ottoman Silver and Iznik Pottery Design' in Apollo, September 1989, pp.159-65. Another, very similar, bowl was sold in these Rooms, 7 April 2011, lot 307. So close are the two in decoration that it seems likely that they are the product of the same workshop.