Diameter: 55.000 cm
Bequeathed by John Henderson
ME OA 1878.12-30.707
Room 34: The Islamic world
Engraved sheet brass tray, inlaid with silver
From Damascus, Syria, around AD 1400
An example of Veneto-Saracenic metalwork
This silver-inlaid brass tray may have been exported to Europe by enterprising merchants from Venice. Since the nineteenth century, metal objects of this type have been known as 'Veneto-Saracenic', as it was thought they were produced in Venice by Muslim craftsmen. It is now thought that Venetian merchants ordered such items from metalworkers in Syria, to be made in a style which would suit the European market.For example, the centre of the tray is raised into a lobed cartouche, acting as a stand for a large ewer. A European coat of arms, charged with three bull's heads, has been soldered to the centre of the raised area, showing that the tray once belonged to a European household. Such heraldic emblems are commonly found on Veneto-Saracenic metalwork.
The tray is engraved and inlaid with silver, with decorative themes typical of Islamic art. Arranged about the centre are four roundels depicting hunting scenes. Hawks seize water-birds, a lion attacks a bull, and a second lion pins down a deer. Representations of the wild animal attacking its prey occur frequently in Islamic art. Between these four roundels, there are pairs of phoenixes and large lotus blossoms. These feature in Islamic art from the thirteenth century onwards, after the Mongol invasions introduced stylistic elements from Chinese art. Under the tray's rim is a series of lobed cartouches, containing pairs of ducks. The tray's horizontal rim features friezes of running animals and flying birds.
R. Ward, Islamic metalwork (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)