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1 / Converging Cultures

Pilgrim Flask
Pilgrim Flask
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, Venice, Italy
Region: Europe
Date ca. 1500–25
Material Free-blown glass, enameled and gilded
Dimensions H: 12 3/8 in. (31.4 cm.)
Location Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

expert perspective

Alan ChongCurator of the Collection, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Additional Resources

“The Arts of Fire: Islamic Influences on the Italian Renaissance (May 4–September 5, 2004).” In Exhibitions. The Getty Web site. http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions.

Brown, Patricia Fortini. Art and Life in Renaissance Venice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005 reissue.

Carboni, Stefano, ed. Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797. Exhibition catalogue. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Carboni, Stefano, Trinita Kennedy, and Elizabeth Marwell. “Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/vnis/hd_vnis.htm (March 2007).

Dursteler, Eric R. Venetians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Mack, Rosamond E. Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300–1600. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Pilgrim Flask

» Unknown artist, Venice, Italy

Because of Venice’s geographic location, it was perfectly suited to be a center of maritime trade.

It was also at a critical crossroads between the Eastern and Western worlds. During the Middle Ages and throughout the early modern period, Venice played an important intermediary role, first between Europe and Byzantium, and later between Europe and the Islamic powers to which the Byzantine Empire had fallen. Increasingly, traders and merchants from the Italian city-state came into close contact with Muslim culture, carrying both knowledge and material goods back to Europe. Although intended for the wider market, many imported luxury items, including carpets, metalwork, bookbinding, and glassware, never made it beyond Venice, where they were not only purchased, but also imitated and adapted.

From the thirteenth century on, Venice began to produce enameled glass objects like those exported from the Islamic world. Over the next three hundred years, the Venetians developed their own styles and techniques and garnered a reputation for the skill and artistry of their blown glass. As this pilgrim flask demonstrates, however, the influence of Islamic models was long-lasting. The term “pilgrim flask” is associated with a kind of flat-sided vessel that was originally used as a water canteen by travelers in the Middle East, and artisans in Syria and Egypt were the first to perfect the art of applying gilt and enamel decoration to glassware.

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