The name of Mahmud the Kurd (probably an itinerant master craftsman working in the second half of the 15th century) has been found on ten small, domestic objects of brass. All are exquisitely worked with intricate arabesques. On one, his signature appears in two forms - in Arabic (or Persian), and in transliterated Roman script. Why? For whom was he working, and where? These are the questions which this book tries to answer. The widespread links between Renaissance Europe and Islam, which emerge as part of the trail, may come as a surprise to some readers.
The objects listed in this book are not only fascinating in themselves but can be seen as a microcosm of the international exchanges and excursions of the period. Later, in 19th century Europe, it was even assumed that Mahmud (and others working in the same style) were employed in Venice. This seems improbable following research in the archives, but so far no satisfactory explanation has been offered for Mahmud's double-language signature. Close examination of the objects shows that there are in fact three distinct styles. In the 15th century, against a backdrop of diplomatic intrigue in the face of Ottoman victories, Venice promoted links with their rivals, the Turcoman ‘White Sheep' dynasty, whose capital then was at Tabriz.
This explains a Persian element in the decorative detail of the first stylistic group. Some of the objects of a second group include a European shield as part of their decoration. Despite renewed papal bans, European trade with Islam continued unabated in the Eastern Mediterranean; Venice was the prime port for this commercial activity, and this accounts for the appearance of this second, Mamluk, group. The admiration in Europe - and more particularly in Italy - for the high quality of Islamic inlaid work explains the details of a third, western, group. Men like Benvenuto Cellini not only set out to emulate this technique, which they called ‘azzimina; but to prove that they could do better.
Sylvia Auld has lectured in Islamic and Fine Art, and is currently a Research Fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies within the University of Edinburgh. Her research has encompassed not only periods in Venice and the Middle East but also included a practical course in metalworking at the Edinburgh School of Art. She has contributed to numerous academic journals and is joint editor, with Robert Hillenbrand, of Ottoman Jerusalem (2000) and Ayyubid Jerusalem (2009).