Silver has been a metal of continued  precious interest since 4000 B.C. The main reasons behind this interest are the rarity and malleability of the precious metal, which makes it easy to work with and the multiple ways to adorn it. Casting, pounding, embossing, engraving etc.

Silver has been used not only as adornment but in the making of home utensils since antique ages. With the distinctive bright white color of the metal, silverware collections are carefully preserved in museums, palaces and private collections all over the world.

Islamic faith banning the use of expensive metals as sin and silver being cheaper than gold, during the Ottoman empire silver was worked on and in many ways , much more than gold was.

A great number of master silversmiths were raised to supply the demands of the palace and its frequent visitors for silverware.

With it’s wide range of use and a market in fine arts, silverware were embossed with the Sultan of the era’s signature in the royal mint to protect the buyers from forgery and against frauds regarding the carat of the metal used. Also, a sample taken with a scratch and called “cesni” from the metal was controlled in the mint and if the silver was 900 carats, the silverware was embossed with “sah” which meant real. Ottomans applied simpler forms and moderate adornments on their works on precious metals as they did on all forms of art during 16th and 17th centuries. Starting with the 18th century, growing western influence established itself on metal working, including silverware. In the 18th and 19th centuries work on silver were influenced partly by baroque and rococo styles and partly by Ottoman tradition.

With the second half of 19th century Orientalism, which was a blend of Chinese, Indian, Magrila, Andalusian, Selchuk, Memluk and Ottoman styles, was reflected on Ottoman silverware also. Orientalist movement found its applications in many forms from architecture to hand crafts.

Art Nouveau was also influential from the end of the 19th century and in the first quarter of the 20th century. These two last styles were originated in the east but created by the west.

Kitchen and table utensils together with light and heating fixtures had a special importance and place in the daily lives of Ottoman people. These utensils and fixtures, which were called “Evani”, when made in silver, started to take place in long lists in the dowries of the upper-class families.

Trays, plates, pans, washbowls and pitchers, coffee and dessert sets, censers and rose water flasks, snow holders, sherbet vessels, candelabras, oil lamps and lanterns, chairs, mirrors, sewing or jewellery boxes, lecterns etc..

A brief summary taken from the book by Abdulaziz Bey “Ottoman traditions, ceremonies and parlance” and “Behice Sultan’s notebooks on Dowry and Legacy” in the T.S.M. archives. (Behice Sultan 1848-1876, was Sultan Abdulmecid’s daughter from his third wife, Nesrin hanım). It is known that Ottoman culinary culture was very rich. Parallel to that, lots of utensils,  “Evani”, were produced for various uses in eating and drinking which turned into a form of pleasure more than satisfying a need.

In a notebook dated 1552, h953 in the T.S.M. archives, hundreds of gold and silver “Evani” are registered under the responsibility of the pantrymaster. Specially formed snow holders were created to cool  the fruits in the heat of the summer with snow and ice which were either collected in the winter and stored in wells or brought from Uludag.

Sherbet vessels are products of this pleasure as well. Sherbet specially, because of being made from drinks not banned by the Islamic faith, was  consumed in great volumes in all kinds of celebrations and holy nights. It had an important place in the nourisments presented to a visiting guest.

Ablution ritual in Islam and the need for hygene in daily life necessitated the creation and production of washbowl-pitcher sets. One of the most important characteristic of these sets is the washbowl drainer, which is placed in the middle of the washbowl to cover the dirty water and prevent it from  spilling or splashing.

Choosing the most beautiful light fixtures such as candelabras, oil lamps and lanterns was considered a status symbol. Besides, light, as in many religions, was sacred in Islam.

Another tradition stemming from faith was the cooking and dispensing of “Asure” which is a kind of dessert. To commemorate the slaying of prophet Muhammed’s grandson Hz. Huseyin in Qerbela it became a tradition to prepare and distribute asure on the tenth day of the month of Muharrem. Asure was usually served in lidded pitchers or jugs

Emine Bilirgen

Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi

Hazine Bölümü Uzmanı


Nişantaşı February 5 2010

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