Ottoman Leather Matara (“Flask”)
This elegant Ottoman matara (“flask”) was made to carry beverages during pilgrimages and battles. It is made of three pieces of hard leather stitched together and consists of a central opening with a short cylindrical neck for filling and a curved pouring spout on the side. The leather appliqués are decorated with three-sided palmettes around the neck which are repeated on a larger scale on the front and back of the object with additional arabesque motifs, scrolls and interlacing foliage that have been punched, stippled and engraved. There are traces of an orange-brown colour on the palmettes, which may have originally been red, as well as traces of green around the pouring spout. The metal rings attached on both shoulders of the object would have enabled its owner to carry the flask using straps.
Mataras were luxury items held in high esteem within the Ottoman court. Similar gourd-shaped flasks were even sent as diplomatic gifts to European rulers; for example, Sultan Murad III sent a matara to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II in ca.1580, which is now held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (Accession Number: HJRK_C_28). Today most surviving mataras are held in Germany and Austria since they were taken as booty after the siege of Vienna in 1683.1 These objects are typically made of leather because this was far more durable and practical than using materials such as glass, precious metals or faience, which would have easily been broken.2 Such objects would have been made where the leather industries flourished in the Ottoman territories, such as in Edirne or Diyarbakır.3
1. Sophie Makariou and Charlotte Maury. 2008. Three Empires of Islam: Istanbul, Isfahan, Delhi: Master Pieces of the Louvre Collection. Musée du Louvre. p.196.
2 Suraiya Faroqhi. 2016. A Cultural History of the Ottomans: The Imperial Elite and its Artefacts. London: I.B. Tauris. p.132.
3. See, David J. Roxburgh. 2005. Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600. London: Royal Academy of Arts. p.466; and Barbara Karl. 2018. “Objects of Prestige and Spoils of War: Ottoman Objects in the Habsburg Networks of Gift-Giving in the Sixteenth Century”. In Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia, edited by Zoltán Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen, and Giorgio Riello, pp. 119-149. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.130.