The Gnalic Shipwreck

Recovered Sunken Treasures

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Written with the kind assistance of Professor Ivo Fadic and Director Mira Hlanuda-Vegar,

Leather-framed spectacles have long been considered the “Holy Grail” for collectors of antique eyeglasses. The reason for this is that anything earlier than leather is extremely rare and the few known only exist in certain fortunate European institutions.

For centuries the Eastern Adriatic coastline has been a popular water route for sailing ships. During a storm in 1583 however the Venetian merchant ship Gagiana sank near the rocky inlet Gnalic, just a few miles south of the town of Biograd, Croatia. Amateur divers discovered the remains at a depth of about 80 feet. The shipwreck and its rich cargo were salvaged mostly between 1967 and 1974 and then the remaining smaller objects were located in 1996. This had been organized by the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Monuments and the People’s Museum from Zadar. The Regional Museum in Biograd was established in 1970 and the remains of the ship were exhibited to the public. After each diving campaign new objects were added to the display.

Exactly twenty little wooden boxes were recovered in 1968, each containing a dozen leather-framed spectacles likely made in Nuremberg, Germany. Nothing was written on the outside of these boxes. The great majority of the frames were damaged because of the four centuries of direct contact with the sea water. The few lenses that were recovered are totally opacified. But this discovery and the numbers represented here still are very significant. From the current research of our website project it can be estimated that there are less than twenty-five leather-framed eyeglasses in the US and less than one hundred in all the known European collections. Therefore this is a discovery of monumental importance because it effectively TRIPLES the number of known examples.
Leather framed eyeglasses has always been treasured by collectors and curators.

Other wonderful treasures were brought up from the cargo of this boat. There was chemical mercury from Idrisd, nine bronze cannon - two of which were dated 1582, great numbers of brass chandeliers from Lubeck, sheets of brass, coils of brass wire, tin bars, bell-shaped cinnabar, and rolls of damask which are unique. This was very expensive and colored purple from Lucca. There was also a group of small objects including sleigh bells, shaving razors, a wide variety of glass objects from Murano, pottery, sewing utensils, and scissors-style objects.

A wonderful book about this entire event was published in 2004 “The Venetian Shipwreck at Gnalic”. I encourage anyone interested to get a copy of that book. In addition the story of this shipwreck is a fascinating one, certainly worthy of a National Geographic magazine story or a Discovery Channel or History Channel Television production. Perhaps some day a representative of one of those public information services will discover what has been written here and search deeper…….

On the inititative of Smiljan Gluscevic, Head of the Department for underwater archeology in the Archelopgical Museum in Zadar and in cooperation with Mira Hlanuda-Vegar, director of the Regional Museum in Biograd n/m, the shipwreck and cargo of a Venetian ship from Gnalic has been included in the international project “The Heritage of Serenissima”. Look at The Venetian Shipwreck at Gnalic, Biograd na Moru, Koper, 2004

(Move your mouse over any of the pictures below to see a larger image.)

Leather Framed Spectacles

recovered from the Gnalic, photo from the 2004 catalogue another view group of three spectacles, 4 lids, and 5 wooden boxes spectacles which survived best spectacles and another box comparison with modern


Treasures From the Sea

front of the museum, and the anchor (right) two of the cannon (artillery) wooden model of the boat, front and back cover of the 2004 catalogue detail of a linen shirt and there were three others wooden box, two precision scales and the weights parts of the chandeliers, made of brass and some were the shape of animals brass thimbles (four sizes), pins, and needles

glass lid with the ornament engraved with a diamond point small bottle made of coloured glass, rare Venetian glass vase with the decoration engraved with a diamond point shaving razors, candle snuffers and hair curlers rectangular and round mirrors from Venice, the two plates of glass had a layer of mercury between which originated from Idrija detail of the purple damask probably woven in Lucca sleigh-bells made of sheet brass

coils of brass wire tin bars and cones of lead carbonate, raw materials packed in barrels copper pot with an incised Turkish inscription multicolored glass beads from the workshops of Murano small sheets made of brass pottery, some richly decorated and belonging to three different sets assorted boxes of Venetian glass objects

The majority of these images are from the wonderful colorful catalogue The Venetian Shipwreck at Gnalic, Koper, 2004, published by The Heritage of Serenissima

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