Gemstones, Gossip, and Research in the Early Modern Mediterranean

May 06, 2021

Speaker: Matthew Gillman, PhD Candidate, Columbia University

Discussant: Deborah Howard, Professor Emerita, University of Cambridge

Chair: Avinoam Shalem, Riggio Professor of the History of the Arts of Islam, Columbia University & Director of the American Academy in Rome (2021-2023)


Around 1697, two visitors to the Basilica of San Marco in Venice wrote about a spectacularly large turquoise bowl kept in its treasury, said to have been a gift from the Aq Qoyunlu ruler Uzun Hasan. A century earlier, however, a different story circulated: that this same object was actually colored glass, while Uzun Hasan's diplomatic present was not a bowl but rather a gem-studded clock. Taking such confusion about the Venetian treasury’s contents as an entry-point, this talk posits a counterintuitive relationship of gemstones and gemlike glasses in the early modern Mediterranean. Moving across an eclectic set of sources—such as Persian and Turkish mineralogical treatises, Ottoman hourglasses, and Venetian glassware—it suggests that European confusion about the “Turkish stone” was not related to its scarcity in trade, as might be presumed, but rather to tensions between the symbolic and empirical mandates of antiquarian research.


This was a virtual event held on May 5, 2021. The event was organized by the Sakip Sabanci Center for Turkish Studies & co-sponsored by the Department of Art History and Archaeology.