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One of a Kind Iznik Pilgrim Flask

A unique blue and white pilgrim flask with animals, Turkey, circa 1545-55 (est. 60,000-80,000)

Bearing testimony to the breadth of experimentation of Iznik potters in Northwest Turkey, this unique blue and white flask is the only known example produced in this distinctive shape. The elegance of the contours and playfulness of the design hail from varying traditions that have evolved and come together in this ground-breaking piece. Decorated in the early blue and turquoise of the mid-sixteenth century and adorned with a fantastical mix of animals, it is one of the earliest instances in which this popular design first appeared.

Iznik wares are best-known for their creative floral designs, blending the Ottomans’ most loved flowers, yet animals were also favoured as a decorative motif. Although these painterly forms recall the ‘animal chase’ tradition seen on Persian metalwork, alluding to the courtly pastime of the hunt, this style is likely to have been derived from the Balkans. Balkan silverwork was popular during the reigns of Ahmed I, Osman II and Murad IV.

The closest comparisons to this Iznik flask are also the only known examples of their kind – a glass pilgrim bottle from the Mamluk era held in the British Museum and a metalwork silver-inlaid canteen attributed to mid-thirteenth century Syria, which is at the Smithsonian Institute.

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