While nielloware, is a technique from antiquity, and is featured in several East Mediterranean civilisations—such as in Egypt, Syrian, old Palestine, Mesopotamia and Persia.
Nielloware has also reached the Caucasus, Russia, some parts of India, Central and South east Asia, such as Bokhara, Thailand, parts of Burma and Indonesia but in the 19th century the Production of nielloedware silver in the Armenian city of Van in eastern Anatolia have had reached its maximum apogee with advanced and very sophisticated levels of excellence.
Armenian Van nielloware was not only sold as sophisticated and expensive souvenirs from the region, but it was also sold worldwide, throughout Europe and the US of America.
Van silverware was bought as an educational and informative item about the cultures that existed in that important part of the world also it was used as “ an informative postcard” for items used to include detailed depictions about the geography and demography of the surrounding areas and it’s various cultures, monuments and local buildings, such as in our current example, for the lower part of the goblet is decorated with three main cartouches containing architectural landscapes that cover the walls of the goblet amidst various geometrical friezes, floral and vegetal scrolls.
The first cartouche is the depiction of Van and the Van Kalesi (Castle of Van) at the background, this is a very distinctive image as it features in several Van nielloed objects.
The second cartouche might be a depiction of the Church of the Holy Mother of God in Arark, an important devotion centre for the Armenian community.
Finally, the last cartouche, although it’s very naïve in style, but it might be depicting the port of the city of Smyrna (modern day Izmir), which was an important trade centre for the Armenians, particularly by the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.
The lid of the goblet has a very unusual landscape, scenes and decoration for it features three coastal cities with a much warmer climate comparing with the local much colder familiar surroundings and natural habitat, and this is much evidence of the existing of the palm trees that is prominent in the lid scenes, this might be a fanciful depictions of paradisiacal beaches, or a fanciful depictions to the coastlines from the lake of Van or Cilicia.
The lid’s finial is a skilfully sculpted with a bouquet of leaves with a pear fruit on top.
A couple of details in our goblet is an evidence the high skill of the silversmith or the master who crafted this item, for example this can be seen in the scalloped rim of the cup, which slight bends outwards. Techniques like these were not easy to achieve and required additional amounts of silver.
By the 19th century Van, like the rest of western Armenia, was thoroughly multicultural, In fact, by 1890 some 40,000 people, including 25,000 Armenians have had lived in the city of Van. This Armenian population was mainly engaged in crafts and trade.
The most common craftwork in the city of Van was involved in the making of gold and silver for there were a considerable amount of silver factories and jewellery shops. Both laymen and clergymen worked on these guilds, in certain cases few masters were itinerant and would produce commissioned items.
These craftsmen would work on excellent examples to satisfy some rich customers like our current item that is clearly was made to satisfy the ottoman taste.
The goblet has various Van marks, the base is marked with Van (فان), Van 90, Turshian تورشيان throughout the vase and the
Condition: very good, silver tarnishing.
17.5 cm the height.
12.7cm diam. of the goblet top.
8.2cm diam. of the goblet base.
Osep Tokat, Armenian Master Silversmiths, Los Angeles, 2005.
Selcuk Guzeloglu, Yadigar-i Van, Sistem Ofset Yayincilik, 2015.
Çetin Anlağan, Tanju Anlağan, Robert Bragner, Sadberk Hanim Museum, Sadberk Hanim, 1995.
Varuzhan and Raida Dovlatyan, Samples of Armenian Silver Work. Yerevan, 2014.
For similar items:-
P Tokat, Armenian Master Silversmiths, Los Angeles, 2005, p 161.
Christie’s London, Lot 226, An Armenian A Nielloed ware Footed Cup, 28 April