KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Ottoman empire, visual language, Iznik pottery, court life, saz (serrated leaves), cultural exchange, tile, stonepaste
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS CHAPTER
Iznik, a town in northwestern Turkey, was the main center for the production of ceramic tiles and tableware in the Ottoman empire. These ceramics were highly valued luxury objects and have come to represent Ottoman visual culture at its height.
This tile is one of many commissioned in the 1570s (the height of Iznik kiln production) for a renovation of the sultan's private quarters. When placed next to identical tiles, the motifs that appear to be cut off here would be complete, and a larger design would emerge. A large panel of these tiles would have decorated the royal bedroom of Sultan Murad III, grandson of Süleyman the Magnificent (fig. 27).
This tile features typical Ottoman motifs: lotus palmettes (the four here halved by the edges of the tile), serrated leaves known as saz leaves, and Chinese-inspired cloud bands. In the center, sinuous cloud bands are painted in thick red pigment against a solid white background. The simple color palette of white, blue, green, and red is typical of later Iznik wares.
This tile exemplifies the mature style of Iznik wares; the cloud bands and saz leaves are typical of this phase of Iznik production. The technique used to create these tiles was complex and required multiple firings to ensure the highest level of clarity for both the colors and the design. Designs such as this were developed in the imperial design workshop in Istanbul and subsequently executed in Iznik.
RELATED AUDIO FROM THE AUDIO GUIDE
Thomas P. Campbell: In the Ottoman Empire, Chinese porcelains were much admired. The fascination with them led to the establishment of a factory to make comparable local variations. Today, these fine wares are called "Iznik," after the provincial Ottoman town where the factory was located. The Turkish artisans there copied from imported Chinese examples, but the motifs developed over time came to be quite different from Chinese ones.
Walter Denny: Iznik ceramics started out imitating Chinese porcelain and using a blue and white palette, to which eventually turquoise and a black line were added. Ultimately, Iznik ceramics, by the 1550s and 1560s, developed a full polychrome palette of a beautiful, lustrous tomato red; a brilliant green; a deep cobalt blue which could be thinned out over the white foundation to a much thinner, lighter, and paler blue; and above all, a sinuous black line that could be used almost in calligraphic fashion. Iznik ceramics famously used the Ottoman stylized flowers: tulips, roses, and honeysuckles among them, as well as hyacinths. Occasionally, small birds and even the human figure were used. The borders of Iznik plates, with their tight spirals, recall Ming originals, but by the middle of the sixteenth century, the Turkish potters had evolved an art form that was truly Ottoman, completely distinct, and has never been equaled since in the history of ceramics.