Vol. 2    Issue 16   16-31 December 2007
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Bill Gate
Single Parent Family

Venice and the Islamic World, 828-1797, edited by Stefano Carboni (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007), 375 pp.

A fascinating exhibition on Venice and the Islamic World, 828-1797 was organised by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris at Pallazo Ducale in Venice between July 28 and November 28, 2007. The exhibition sought to highlight the positive consequences of Venice’s highly fruitful interaction and exchange with the Islamic world over nearly a millennium from the 9th to the 18th century. During this period, a wide range of artefacts, luxury goods and art works flowed from East to West, and sometimes from West to East, through commercial, diplomatic and cultural exchanges. Many works of Islamic art, now in European and American museums as well as in private collections, had passed through Venice and were acquired in the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibition brought into focus the degree to which Venetian craftsmen, artists and artisans sought to emulate Islamic styles, techniques and motifs in glassmaking, ceramics, paintings, textiles, metalware, lacquerware, book bindings and arms and armour. Nearly 200 artefacts and objects from more than 60 public and private collections around the world were on display at the exhibition.

This marvellous and delightful book, edited by a renowned art historian and a native Venetian, provides the historical, political and cultural context of the intercultural symbiosis that took place in Venice during the Middle Ages. Stefano Carboni is Curator and Administrator of the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. He was born near the Rialto Bridge in the heart of Venice and studied Islamic art at Venice and abroad for many years. He assembled a team of highly competent international specialists to write the essays for this volume. Scores of beautifully reproduced photographs of art objects and an extensive bibliography greatly enhance the value of the volume.

Venice’s uniqueness

Venice, one of the most enchanting cities in the world, is located in the middle of a lagoon in northern Italy. The Venetian Lagoon is about 30 miles long and about 6 miles wide. The size of Venice is about 3 miles by 2 miles. The city comprises some 118 islands and nearly 400 bridges. There are some 450 palaces, mansions and other buildings of major historic importance in Venice. The architecture of the city represents a distinctive synthesis of Italian, Byzantine, Islamic and Renaissance styles.

Venice’s patron saint is St. Mark, who was martyred in Alexandria in about 62 AD and was buried there. According to legend, two Venetian merchants stole the hallowed body of the saint from a Coptic church in Alexandria and carried it to Venice. His mortal remains were later buried in St. Mark’s Basilica.

Venice was originally an outlying colony of the Byzantine Empire. In the course of time it established its cultural and political independence and carved out a distinctive niche for itself. Maritime trade and commerce have been the mainstay of Venice’s economy.

The bazaar of Europe

Venice’s distinctive geographical location between East and West and her strong mercantile character gave her a definite advantage. Since early times, the city’s livelihood was heavily dependent on long-distance travel, trading ventures and entrepreneurship. From the 9th century, Venice’s political and economic viability depended on extensive commercial links with the East. Members of Venice’s prominent families often travelled overseas to work as merchants and diplomats in the Eastern Mediterranean. Marco Polo is the most famous of thousands of Venetians who set sail for the East in search of fortune. Venice maintained trading relations with the Nasirid kingdom of Granada, Morocco, Fatimid and Mamluk Egypt, the Seljuq dynasty in southeast Anatolia and Ottoman Turkey. Venice had little agricultural land and therefore had to depend on imports of grain from other countries.

Venice imported a wide range of goods and commodities from the Islamic world, which were supplied to European countries. Their principal clients were merchants from mainland Europe, especially Germany. Imports from the East included spices, dyes, aromatics, silks, carpets, gems, cotton, sugar and alkali. Raw silk was imported from Syria, Egypt, Ottoman Turkey and Persia. The Mamluks, who ruled over a vast area of the Eastern Mediterranean from Egypt to Syria from 1250 until 1517, were the principal trading partners of the Venetian Republic. By the end of the 15th century, Venice’s trade with the Mamluks amounted to 45% of all Venetian investment in overseas commerce (p. 79). By the end of the Mamluk era, Venice was recognised as Europe’s principal source of Oriental spices and luxury goods.

By the 15th century, Venice had achieved indisputable dominance in the import of luxury goods from the Islamic world and had become a dazzling global emporium. In 1494 the markets of the Rialto were brimming with Oriental goods and luxury items. The Milanese priest Pietro Casola, who was amazed by the profusion of Oriental objects in Venice, wrote in his diary: “Who could count the many shops so well furnished that they also seemed warehouses, with so many cloths of every make—tapestry, brocades, and hangings of every design, carpets of every sort, camlets of every colour and texture, silks of every kind; and so many warehouses full of aromatics, spices and drugs, and so much beautiful white wax!” (pp. 59-60).

Venice relied on the Ottoman Empire for the supply of wheat, spices, cotton, raw silk and leather. Art materials such as resins, gums, pigments and dyestuff were imported from Persia and Turkey. European linen and wool, olive oil, nuts, dried fruits and honey were imported from southern Italy, Crete and Cyprus.

By the 15th century Venice emerged as the most prominent centre of commercial exchange involving East and West. Venetians were the major suppliers to the Islamic world of timber and metals, especially gold, silver, copper, tin, iron, lead and mercury, which were in short supply in Egypt and Syria. Other valuable exports to Muslim countries included woollens, linen, luxury silks and velvets, a variety of furs from northern and eastern Europe, Baltic amber and coral. In the course of time, Venetians acquired expertise in soap and sugar production and in the manufacture of luxury textiles and glassware. Silk workshops were established in Venice in 1314 (p. 77).

Venice’s pragmatism

It is significant to note that Venice’s commercial, diplomatic and cultural interaction and exchanges with the Islamic world were not hampered by the embargo imposed by the pope on Europe’s trade with Muslim countries and by occasional confrontations with the Ottoman Empire. Papal embargo ultimately led to an outright ban on all trade with the Islamic world in 1320. In 1326 a bull of Pope John XXII imposed excommunication on any European country that violated the prohibition. The ban was finally lifted in 1344.

The Venetians generally ignored the papal embargo and continued to trade with Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran (pp. 75-76). Venice was excommunicated by the pope a couple of times for trading with the infidel (p. 18).

Venice was embroiled in six naval and land wars with the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries, which resulted in losses of Venetian territory. However, the times of peace and diplomatic and commercial exchanges between the Venetian Republic and Ottoman Turkey were much longer and durable. In fact, even during times of hostility, diplomatic missions, trading activities and exchange of gifts never came to a halt (pp. 16, 28). Stefano Carboni says that “pragmatism is probably the term that best defines Venice’s relations with the Muslim Middle East…..It was this almost perfect balance and interaction of religious esprit, chameleonic diplomacy, and an unsentimentally practical mercantile system that turned Venice into the most respected trading and political partner of the Near East” (pp. 15-16).

Venice’s encounter with Islamic culture

Apart from Spain and southern Italy, Venice was the only city in Europe which established direct and sustainable channels of communication—through trade and commerce, diplomatic missions, frequent visits of dignitaries and merchants, exchange of gifts and intercultural dialogue-- with the Islamic world. A number of Venetian merchants and members of the nobility stayed in Istanbul and other cities of the Islamic world. Venice was the only city in Europe that for centuries received a regular stream of Mamluk and Ottoman dignitaries and emissaries. The Venetians made frequent gifts to members of the Ottoman court. Turkish merchants frequented the bazaars of Venice. There developed a tradition of sending Venetian merchants to the Eastern Mediterranean to learn Arabic, bookkeeping and trading acumen (p. 62).

The Venetians arranged package tours for pilgrims from Venice and other parts of Europe to the Holy Land, which was under the control of the Mamluks. This would not have been possible without the cooperation of Mamluk rulers (p. 88). Venetian diplomats and merchants travelled throughout the Islamic world from the Nile delta to Syria to Constantinople to Azerbaijan. Their reports to the Venetian authorities, which have been preserved, provide an important documented source of information about Islamic history, society, art, economics and politics of those days. By the 15th century, Venetians had developed a highly sophisticated understanding of the Islamic world (p. 175).

Following the cessation of hostilities and the restoration of cordial relations between the Venetian Republic and the Ottoman Empire in 1479, the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II sent a letter to the Venetian Signoria or Senate with a request to send to his court a painter, a sculptor and a bronze founder from Venice. The Venetian Senate promptly sent to the sultan’s court Gentile Bellini, the Republic’s official painter, and Bartolomeo Bellano, along with two assistants for each master. Bellini spent two years at the Ottoman court in Istanbul, during which he drew a portrait of Sultan Mehmet II. Bellini and Bellano made several medals of the sultan, of which 15 have survived. In the course of his stay in Istanbul, Bellini keenly observed Ottoman monuments, customs, luxury goods and exotic animals. His deep familiarity with Ottoman culture is reflected in his subsequent paintings. Oriental scenes, designs and motifs are frequently depicted in Venetian paintings, especially in those of Bellini’s famous students, Vittore Carpaccio and Giovanni Mansueti. The visit of Gentile Bellini greatly expanded and strengthened the channels of intercultural exchange and transmission between Venice and the Islamic world.

The degree to which intercultural understanding and symbiosis between Venice and the Islamic world had taken root may be gauged from the following incident. In 1586, the Venetian bailo Lorenzo Bernardo offered two clepsydras to the Ottoman Grand Vizier Siyavush Pasha for a mosque that was being constructed under his patronage. The Grand Vizier was so taken aback that a Christian would make a gift to a mosque that he asked the bailo’s letter to be translated twice (p. 95).

Mirror of the East

Venice is often referred to as “the mirror of the East” because her architecture and urban planning incorporated typical Islamic features and ornamental flourishes. Monuments of Venetian architecture, such as St. Mark’s Basilica, the Palazzo Ducale and the Fondaci dei Tedeschi, have Islamic-style windows, crenellations and courtyards. Venetian architecture conspicuously incorporated Oriental designs and motifs, including colourful and elaborate ornamentation. The architecture of the Palazzo Ducale or the Doge’s Palace, which was the centre of the Republic’s administration, evidently reflects Islamic influences.

Venice’s fascination with Oriental objects

Curiously, Venice’s love affair with Islamic objects and luxury goods originated in the context of the Crusades. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), was the most successful Venetian-led military campaign in the Near East. It was originally designed to conquer Jerusalem, then under Muslim control, through an invasion of Egypt. Instead, in April 2004, the Crusaders invaded the Eastern Orthodox city of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. The city was ransacked, Eastern Orthodox churches were attacked and vandalised and a reign of terror was let loose. Following the sack of Constantinople, the pope regretfully remarked that the Crusaders had vowed to liberate the Holy Land but ended up fighting fellow-Christians instead of Muslims (see Jonathan Philips: The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople (New York, 2004) and William W. Lace: The Unholy Crusade: The Ransacking of Medieval Constantinople (San Diego, 2006).

The devastation of Constantinople by the Crusaders, which has been described as one of the most disgraceful and barbarian attacks on a city in the annals of history, created a deep schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. In 2001, Pope John II expressed sorrow for the events of the Fourth Crusade and wrote to Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens: “It is tragic that the assailants who set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret.”

The Crusades looted a whole lot of luxury goods, which included art objects that the Byzantine Emperor had obtained through diplomatic or other means from Muslim rulers in Egypt and Syria. The earliest works of Islamic art that have survived in Venice belong to this ignominious period (p. 19).

European pilgrims to the Holy Land were probably the first collectors of Islamic art objects from the Levant. These objects, which were mostly from Syria and Egypt, included luxury textiles (which were used for wrapping sacred relics), caskets, incense burners, salvers, and goblets and ewers in ivory, metal, enamels and rock crystals. Most of them were presented to churches and deposited in cathedral treasuries (p. 216). European merchants, princes and emissaries, who travelled to Islamic lands, collected art objects for their beauty and exquisite craftsmanship. Luxury goods, such as carpets, textiles, glazed ceramics, gilded glass objects, and inlaid metalware became increasingly popular with the nobility in Venice and other parts of Europe from the 14th century onwards. When Marco Polo died in 1324 he bequeathed to his daughter a variety of expensive, luxurious silk garments, including those obtained from Islamic lands (p. 206).

Lacquered bookbindings produced in the Islamic world can be found in many private collections and museums in Europe. The splendour and sheer beauty of Islamic manuscripts had a great impact on European bookbinders of the period. Turkish and Persian bookbindings of various types began arriving in Europe before the 13th century through trade and diplomatic gifts as well as through a personal interest among merchants and emissaries in acquiring them.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Ottoman and Persian lacquer was imitated by Venetian artists and craftsmen. Islamic-style bookbindings were used for classical and humanist texts during the Venetian Renaissance. Tooled bindings and cover designs perfected by Mamluk, Ottoman and Persian artists and craftsmen were used in Venice for official documents, musical instruments, cabinets, boxes, caskets and ceremonial shields (pp. 238-242).

Ceramics produced in Islamic lands were exported on an extensive scale to Venice and other parts of Europe from the 11th to the 17th century. Tiles imported from Ottoman Turkey were often used for church decorations.

By the early 14th century, Mamluk artisans and craftsmen in Egypt had started producing art works and luxury articles specifically for European consumption. After the lifting of the papal embargo on European trade with the Islamic world in 1344, Italian merchants began custom-ordering metal objects from Egypt and Syria (p. 327). Brass candlesticks were among the most common metal objects produced for European markets. Inlaid metalwork produced in Islamic lands and imported by Venetian merchants became so popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries that they came to be known as ‘Veneto-Saracenic’ (p. 213).

A wealthy merchant, Stefano Ravagnino, who died in 1455 in Damascus, left large amounts of money and jewellery, papers recording dealings with Arab merchants, inlaid boxes and furniture, embroidered cloths and handkerchiefs, cushions, carpets, beddings, as well as textiles in a separate warehouse and books from the local bazaar. Many other possessions were evidently acquired in Damascus, such as the writing stand with its silver seals, silver stylus with a copper nib, and cover “alla moresca.” His handkerchiefs were embroidered with “alla damaschina.” He had knives “alla arabesca” with blue handles, and even his prayer book had a damascene cover (p. 64).

During the Middle Ages, carpets produced in Cairo, Damascus and Anatolia and imported by Venetian merchants became hugely popular in Europe. Churches and other religious institutions acquired Oriental carpets which were used to cover the large tables around which meetings were held. Many Venetian paintings depict Oriental carpets in religious settings. This is also documented in Ottoman records. In 1520, a gift of 60 fine Damascene carpets was made to Cardinal Wolsey at the suggestion of the Venetian ambassador in London, Sebastiano Giustiniani (p. 177).

The fine quality and vibrant colours of Oriental carpets and the high prestige attached to them led to their imitation in the 14th and 15th centuries by European craftsmen in Spain and later in England and France.

An interesting but intriguing object that incorporates elements of Islamic art is the so-called Chair of St. Peter, a marble seat in the church of Jan Pietro di Castello in Venice. The chair, which is believed to be St. Peter’s original seat in Antioch (Syria), is composed of several parts in white marble, including a decorated backrest. The backrest, which can be attributed to the 11th or 12 century, has Quranic inscriptions in the Kufi script. This slab could have been the backrest of a pulpit (minbar) in a mosque (p. 325).

Venetian paintings

Many of the colours used in Italian paintings in the 15th and 16th centuries were obtained from Muslim countries. The names of many of these colours in the Venetian dialect and in Italian are indicative of their origin. For example, lazuli (for bright blue) was derived from the Arabic lazuward and the Persian lajavard. The Italian word narancio (for orange) was derived from the Persian narang and the Arabic naranj. The Venetian name for a turquoise-like pigment, colore arabico ditto turchino, is apparently of Turkish origin. The Italian word endego de baghedad referred to Baghdad blue while azzurro damascene was used for damascene blue (p. 144).

Blue paper, much used by Venetian artists for drawing, was known not only as carta azzurra but also as carta turchina. Incidentally, the term arabico was used to describe a turquoise colour in a European glassmaker’s recipe book written in L’Ecole de Medicine de Montpellier.

A 16th century Venetian treatise describes the use of saffron for painting on paper (both in its pure form and as mixed with blue to obtain the green colour), just the way it was used by Muslim artists in their paintings.

Islamic settings and Oriental designs and motifs are reflected in abundance in Venetian paintings. In the 16th century, Lorenzo Lotto became famous for his depiction of Oriental carpets, which he included in religious scenes as well as in portraits. In his famous painting Madonna with saints, made in 1495 (now in Dusseldorf, Germany), the Venetian artist Cima da Conegliano shows the Virgin with a nielloed silver bracelet decorated with an Arabic inscription (p. 125).


Muslim artists and craftsmen in Egypt and Syria for centuries had been undisputed leaders in glass technology, technique and artistic decoration. In the 7th century, Muslim craftsmen learned the technology of glassmaking from Roman and Byzantine craftsmen and soon thereafter experimented with new techniques—such as the difficult firing technique and the technique of melting the enamels--and innovative designs. They particularly excelled in enamelled and gilded glass. For centuries artistic glassmaking in the Islamic world had no serious rival anywhere in Europe (p. 253). Decorated and gilded glass objects made in Egypt and Syria began arriving in Venice around the 10th century. Thus, in a small island in the Venetian lagoon, a 10th century Islamic stain-decorated glass vessel has been found (p. 279).

A fairly large number of glass vessels are preserved in the Treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica, some of which had arrived in Venice as part of the booty from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. The Treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica has the largest single collection of Islamic glassware in Italy (p. 255).

Enameled and gilded glass objects from Islamic lands caught the fancy of European knights and princes and members of the nobility. Venetian artists and craftsmen saw the commercial potential of decorated glass and began avidly copying the techniques and designs of Islamic glassware. Soon this became a thriving industry and Venice emerged as a prime centre of glassmaking in Europe. The success of glassmaking in Venice was partly due to the import from the Eastern Mediterranean of raw materials for glassmaking, including high-quality soda ash, cobalt mineral, high-grade alkali and broken glass.

Perhaps the earliest example of the influence of Islamic art on Venetian glassmaking can be seen in the decoration of a marble pulpit, made in 1270, in which individual tiles are arranged according to the distinctive Islamic geometrical patterns (pp. 255-56). A fragment of the pulpit is preserved in the Diocesan Museum in Pistoia.

Arabic words in the Venetian dialect

As a result of prolonged commercial, diplomatic and cultural exchanges between Venice and the Islamic world, a number of Arabic words crept into the vocabulary of the Venetian dialect in particular and in Italian in general. The Venetian Republic coined the first gold ducat in 1284, which became known as zecchino, a term derived from the Arabic word sikka (p. 22).

The names of several fabrics in Venetian reflect Islamic influences as well as the origin of such fabrics. The Venetian word nasizo, for example, was derived from the Arabic nasij (woven fabric) while nacco was derived from the Arabic nakhkh (meaning mat, rug or carpet). The Venetian word guibba was derived from the Arabic jabba. Similarly, the Venetian word tabarro (cloak) had an Arabic origin. Fabrics produced in Baghdad, Damascus, Fustat (Egypt) and Mosul and imported into Venice came to be known, respectively, as baldechini, damachino, fustaneo and mussola.

Reversal of roles

Around the middle of the 15th century, a remarkable reversal of roles between Venetian glassmakers and their counterparts in the Islamic world began to take place. While glassmaking industry in Egypt and Syria began to decline, Venetian craftsmen made rapid advances in the technique and decoration of glassmaking. They mastered a technique of purification of plant ashes (imported from Syria) to produce crystal glass. Some 30 years later, the same technique was used in the production of Iznik glazes in Ottoman Turkey.

In the 15th century, glass factories were established in Murano. Within a few decades Venice replaced Cairo and Damascus as the most prominent centre of glassmaking in the world. In the 16th century, Venetian glass objects began to be exported to Europe as well as to Egypt, Syria and Ottoman Turkey. Venetian glassmakers adapted the shapes and designs of their glassware to the stylistic requirements of foreign markets.

In a few years, Venice became a thriving centre for the production of high-quality glass objects, rock crystals, fine silks and velvets, jewels and paintings. The Egyptian and Ottoman sultans were greatly fascinated by the beauty and craftsmanship of Venetian objects and began clamouring for them. A document of 1466, for example, mentions that the Egyptian sultan asked for window glasses for his palace from Venice in exchange for his gift of valuable perfumes and spices (p. 342).

Taking advantage of the great interest evinced by Muslim rulers in the Eastern Mediterranean in Venetian luxury goods, the city’s craftsmen began making glass objects and textiles according to their tastes and designs. Some of them made ceremonial robes for Ottoman sultans. The large collection of Ottoman ceremonial costumes preserved in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul includes some 30 kaftans or ceremonial outer robes in silk velvet (p. 187).

In the 16th century, there were requests from the Ottoman sultans and members of the nobility for furniture pieces, glass mosque lamps, textiles, jewellery, clocks and mechanical marvels. The Venetian Republic made frequent gifts to the Ottoman court. Sometimes the Ottomans dispatched their agents to Venice for the purchase of their favourite luxury goods or used diplomatic channels for the purpose. In 1590, 440 panes of glass and some 450 items of blown glass, many of them gilded or silvered, were shipped from Murano to Istanbul. The Ottoman Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmet Pasha ordered 900 custom-made lamps from Murano (p. 269). A large collection of Venetian-made mosque lamps is preserved in the Topkapi Palace Museum and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul.

Printing of Islamic Books in Venice

Aristotle’s most famous commentator is the Spanish-Arab philosopher and jurist Ibn Rushd, known as Averroes in the West. The original writings of the Greek philosopher were extremely difficult and abstruse. They were made more accessible by Ibn Rushd’s lucid commentaries. Many of Ibn Rushd’s commentaries on Aristotle, originally in Arabic, were translated into Latin by Michael Scot, who had studied Arabic in Toledo (Islamic Spain) and later worked under the enlightened patronage of Emperor Frederick II in Palermo (Sicily) in the early decades of the 13th century. The Latin translation of Ibn Rushd’s commentaries on Aristotle had a profound impact on European intellectuals as well as on Christian clerics in the Middle Ages. Emperor Frederick II was so impressed by Scot’s Latin translation of Ibn Rushd that he forwarded it to the University of Bologna, whence it reached the universities of Padua and Paris.

Printing presses were established in Venice in 1469. The Latin translation of the complete works of Aristotle with Ibn Rushd’s commentaries was printed in Venice in 1483. The Latin translation of one of Ibn Rushd’s works, Tahafat al-Tahafah (Destructio destructionis) was first printed in Venice in 1497. This was followed by the Latin translation of the works of Ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in the West) and Al-Farabi (Alpharabius in the West). Ibn Sina’s magnum opus Al-Qanun (or Canon), was first printed in Venice in its Latin translation in 1595 and served as the principal textbook for medical students in several European universities until the 18th century.

Catalogue of the Exhibition

Carboni’s book includes a detailed catalogue of the art objects, artefacts and manuscripts displayed at the exhibition. One of the significant works on display was a rare copy of a printed Quran, printed in Venice in 1537-38. This copy was printed with mobile letters on expensive paper by the Venetian publishers Paganino Paganini and his son. This copy probably inspired the first Italian translation of the Quran in 1547 as well as a later Arabic print in Rome in the late 16th century.

It is claimed that this copy represents the earliest printed Arabic edition of the Quran ever produced (p. 317). This is not correct. Fragments of the first printed copy of the Quran, printed in Egypt in the 10th century, are preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Vienna (see Muhammad Hamidullah: Six Originaux des letters diplomatiques du Prophete de L’Islam (Paris, 1986), p. 72).

The important manuscripts on display at the exhibition included a copy of the Latin translation of Ibn Sina’s Al-Qanun (Avicennae Arabum medicorum principis Ex Gerardi Cremonensis versione et Andreae Alpagi Bellunesis castigatione). This rare copy was printed in Venice in 1595. The manuscript is preserved in Bibliotheque interuniversitaire de medicine, Paris. The first Latin translation of parts of Ibn Sina’s Canon was done by Gerard of Cremona (d. 1187). Andrea Alpago (d. 1522), the translator of the manuscript on display, served the Venetian merchant colony in Damascus where he learned Arabic and then completed an entirely new translation of the Canon.

The valuable exhibits on display included two brass astrolabes made in 1306-07. The astrolabe (asturlab in Arabic) is one of the most sophisticated scientific instruments of the ancient and medieval periods. It was invented by the Greeks around the second century BC and was developed and perfected by Muslim scientists and astronomers. The astrolabe was traditionally used to describe the positions of the heavenly bodies and to determine their altitude in relation to the horizon. Muslim scientists greatly expanded its applications and extended its use to terrestrial measurements, including the determination of the qiblah as well as the correct times for Islamic prayers. The astrolabe and other scientific instruments devised and developed by Muslim scientists reached Europe through Muslim Spain.

An important object on display at the exhibition was a fragment of cloth from the tomb of Cangranade I della Scala (d. 1329), ruler of Verona, which was made in Tabriz. Another interesting exhibit was a small carpet, with Jewish motifs, from a synagogue in Padua, which was produced in Cairo in the mid-16th century.

In the 16th century, Ottoman-style arms and armour were immensely popular in Venice. Elaborately decorated Turkish shields and quivers, along with their Venetian imitations from the armoury of Doge’s Palace, were on display at the exhibition. The other exhibits included bowls, vases, bowls, containers, ewers, plates, carpets, candlesticks, perfume-burners, lamps, textiles, chests, paintings and maps.

This is a splendid, highly informative and lucidly-written book, for which Carboni and the contributors deserve to be commended. It documents the highly significant contribution of Islamic civilization to the enrichment of European civilization in general and Venetian culture in particular. It demonstrates that Islamic civilization has fostered peaceful coexistence and intercultural dialogue among people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. It provides a cogent refutation of the myopic and biased views of Samuel Huntington and others of his ilk who indulge in the loose talk of clash of civilizations. It also offers a fitting reply to Islam-baiters like Bernard Lewis, V. S. Naipaul, Francis Fukuyama and Oriana Fallaci, who have painted Islam and Muslims in the darkest of colours.

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