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Attempts at Revival of The Art in The Tekfur Palace

Attempts at Revival of The Art in The Tekfur Palace

3 June 2022

At the beginning of the 18th century, Ottoman tile workmanship, which was in a supply-demand equilibrium with architecture, was on the verge of extinction. The famous grand vizier of the Tulip Era, Nevşehirli Damad Ibrahim Pasha, established a tile workshop in Istanbul at the Tekfur Palace, as a precautionary measure for the revival of this important branch of art. It is true that this workshop, aiming to produce traditional İznik tiles, was not able to attain the desired technical and aesthetic level, but still made tiles good enough to make its name known.

The tile workshops in the Tekfur Palace were probably founded out of necessity. Because at the beginning of the 18th century the tile production of İznik and Kütahya had kind of come to a standstill. After the ordering of 9,500 tiles by Sultan Ahmed III to be made in Kütahya in 1709 to decorate the palace of his daughter Fatma Sultan, there is no reference whatsoever in historical sources and archival documents to other orders received by İznik or Kütahya. Shaykh al-Islam and Chronicler Çelebizade İsmail Asım Effendi also clearly state in his works that İznik and Kütahya were no longer commissioned to make tiles. To explain why, he cites “the political concerns of state leaders, the exigencies of campaigns and wars, and the importance attached to the decoration of private residences”. Accordingly, he also notes that “the tile fell out of favor, with those practicing the art devastated and impoverished.”

In fact, relative changes in trends with architecture and decoration in this period are worth highlighting here besides wars and other political circumstances. Until then, Ottoman statesmen had chosen to express their wealth and richness by building religious, social and educational and similar architectural structures; however, turning their faces to the West, they embraced the passion the Westerners had for private residences. The interiors of the mansions, pavilions and palaces of the Tulip Era (1718-1730), which imitated the well-known Western style of the period, were different from the classical Ottoman interiors and did not require the use of tiles really. Religious buildings, on the other hand, were quite limited in comparison to the assertive architectural and decorative practices witnessed during the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the classical periods (based on economic means).

In 1718, it was decided by Damad Ibrahim Pasha to build new tile workshops around the Tekfur Palace, which was part of the former Byzantine Blachernae Palace community concentrated in and around Eyüp. Two tile masters from İznik are brought to Istanbul. Requirements for manufacturing of tiles along with the shape and size of the ovens were determined, with initial steps taken to maintain production in the Tekfur Palace by transferring to Istanbul the required materials and the masters to build such ovens. Looking at the decrees written by the Imperial Council surviving to this day, it is clear that rudimentary materials for the tile workshops in the Tekfur Palace were procured from outside Istanbul. Therefore, it can be argued that, among other factors, the import of raw materials from distant places has, to some extent, contributed to bringing a hasty end to efforts to revitalize production. These workshops continued production with various interruptions for about 15 years and probably ended in 1735.

The tiles manufactured at the Tekfur Palace, which today decorate various architectural works, have certain distinctive features:

1. They bear a strong resemblance to İznik ceramics body, containing lead in its mixture similarly. However, there are more impure elements in the ceramics body of Tekfur Palace tiles. They were not homogeneous enough because less care was taken in the preparation of the ceramics body. The color of the ceramics body is yellow with a pinkish tinge.

2. They featured the colors pale red to brown, cobalt blue, dark blue, turquoise, green, yellow with contour lines painted in black.

3. Mostly İznik motifs and variations of these motifs were used. In addition, baroque-influenced flowers, large roses, thin tulips resembling an ear of corn, three-dimensional and perspective-oriented representations of the Kaaba distinguished tiles of the Tekfur Palace from others.

It is understood that the workshops of the Tekfur Palace were busy when new works of architecture were being built while at the same time older buildings were also being covered with these tiles. The mihrab of the Üsküdar Yeni Valide Mosque, which is known to have been built in 1710, was decorated with tiles that were probably the earliest examples of tiles that came out of the workshops of the Tekfur Palace. These lack seriously in terms of quality, color and pattern. An important feature of the tiles of Cezeri Kasım Pasha Mosque, made in the workshops of the Tekfur Palace, was that the date of their making and the master making them were inscribed on the tiles. One of these inscriptions accredit Osman bin Ahmed from İznik with the Kaaba depiction on the mihrab wall.

Among the structures featuring the tiles made in the workshops of the Tekfur Palace in Istanbul are the Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III, Hagia Sophia Library, Balat Ferruh Kethüda Mosque, Hırka-i Saadet, the Court of the Queen Mother, Sofa with Fountain in the Topkapı Palace, Hekimoğlu Ali Pasha Mosque in Koca Mustafa Paşa, Kaptan Pasha Mosque in Üsküdar, Mehmed Agha Mosque in Çarşamba, and Kandilli Mosque in Kandilli. The fireplace of Fuat Pasha Mansion, which used to be located in Kanlıca and did not survive the fire of 1864, was brought to England at an unknown date and is still on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (‘Anadolu Toprağının Hazinesi Çini’ (Tile, Treasure of the Anatolian Lands), Belgin Demirsar Arlı and Ara Altun, pp.37-40).

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