The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Pilgrim Flask
  • Pilgrim Flask
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Venice, Italy
  • second half of the 16th century
  • 'Vetro a retorti' glass with 'lattimo' canes on a colourless glass liner throughout, except for applied suspension loops and trail of colourless glass with warm grey tinge at foot rim; applied and tooled features.
  • Height: 40.5 cm
    Diameter: 22 cm
  • C525
  • Sixteenth Century Gallery
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Pilgrim flasks derive their name from bottles of similar shape in leather or metal which were used by travellers such as pilgrims on long journeys. Whereas the suspension loops on flasks for travelling would have been threaded with cords for carrying, glass pilgrim flasks were impractical for travel and were used in a domestic environment, their suspension loops being purely decorative. During meals, glass pilgrim flasks such as C525 would have been displayed on a tiered buffet. They were often used in pairs, for red and white wine or water and wine. This example is exceptionally large.
    The decorative pattern` of white ('lattimo') canes on C525 was created by the 'vetro a filigrana' technique. This technique was first produced in Venice around 1527 and became increasingly widespread towards the middle of the sixteenth century. 'Vetro a filigrana' is the generic term used to describe glass with a pattern of canes either embedded in the glass matrix or fused to a glass liner. Patterns of different types are variously identified. Complex patterns of canes like those on this flask are known as 'vetro a retorti', whereas parallel lines of single canes are known as 'vetro a fili' and a regular mesh pattern of canes as 'vetro a reticello'.
    There is no evidence for the production of pilgrim flasks in 'vetro a filigrana' glass beyond Venice.The supreme skill of the Venetian glass-makers is evident in this impressive example, even on the underside, with its perfect central convergence of the 'vetro a retorti' canes.
    While its colour, wall and foot-ring are characteristic of Venetian Renaissance glass-working practice, the shearing technique evidently used for the completion of the suspension loops is atypical of this production. Nevertheless, the combination of the flask's shape and decoration indicate that it was made in Venice in the second half of the sixteenth century, perhaps more specifically during the third quarter of the century.