V&A acquires spectacular Ottoman Tankard

  • 18 April 2011

A rare jade tankard inlaid with gold and studded with rubies and emeralds has been acquired by the V&A.

The tankard was originally made for an Ottoman sultan in the late 16th century, in the imperial capital of Istanbul. A limited number of these objects were produced and this is the first example to enter a British national collection.

The tankard was offered to the V&A partly through the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme. We gave £220,000 towards the purchase, which included a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation. It cost a total of £477,500.

The tankard is a spectacular example of how the Ottoman court borrowed forms from everyday life and turned them into luxury items. Its shape is based on the indigenous drinking vessels used for a variety of beverages including boza, the fermented millet drink still popular in Anatolia and the Balkans. However, instead of wood or leather, it is made from jade, which had to be imported at high cost, over a great distance from Central Asia.

By the 1560s, the Ottoman Empire was one of the world’s great powers, and the Sultans who ruled in the following decades no longer felt the need to borrow artistic ideas from their rivals. Instead, they celebrated their regional supremacy by adopting local forms and recreating them in luxury materials for use in court.

This particular tankard has a distinctive swelling form, pot-bellied in front and flat at the back, which suggests it had a leather prototype. It is decorated with a gold wire inlay and gemstone settings, arranged in a pattern of floral sprays, with a vase motif on the front. It was the custom to set objects of all kinds with rubies and other gemstones to mark them out as court objects. Around 1800, the tankard was further embellished with gold fittings in the Rococo style, consisting of gemset gold mounts around the foot, the rim and the lid and the distinctive curved handle.

Sir Mark Jones, Director of the V&A said: “This tankard is a splendid example of Ottoman art. There is nothing like it in the V&A or any other national collection in Britain. It is a great addition to our Middle Eastern collection, which is one of the most important in the world and will help us illustrate the story of the Ottoman Empire in the late 16th century.”

Our director Stephen Deuchar said: “This beautiful tankard deserves to be admired by all the public and we’re thrilled that it will now be permanently housed at the V&A. We hope as many people as possible will see it and be enthralled by its arresting detail and fascinating history.”

The jade tankard goes on display in the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art today.

Other donors included The Geoffrey Akerman Bequest, the Friends of the V&A and The Salomon Oppenheimer Philanthropic Foundation.

Read the Guardian's report on the acquisition

See further information and images on Art Funded