Attempts at Revival of The Art in The Tekfur Palace
The 18th century of the Ottoman Empire was marked by a whirlwind of transformation in the fields of architecture and art. One of the most prominent breezes of this wind was the challenges faced by the art of tile-making. As a part of the cultural and aesthetic heritage of the era, the art of tile-making, while struggling to survive, saw a historic step taken by Nevşehirli Damad Ibrahim Pasha, one of the influential figures of the Tulip Era, to revive this art form. The tile workshop he opened in the heart of Istanbul, in the Tekfur Palace, not only changed the fate of an art form but also breathed new life into the Ottoman aesthetic understanding. In this article, we will explore the establishment story of the Tekfur Palace tile workshop, its role in Ottoman culture, and the marks it left on the history of art.
Foundation and Significance of the Tekfur Palace Tile Workshop
This workshop was established with the aim of continuing the production of traditional İznik tiles. Although it did not fully reach the desired level in terms of technique and aesthetics, it managed to create a noticeable impact in Turkish tile-making. In the early 18th century, a period when tile production in İznik and Kütahya had almost come to a halt, the opening of this workshop was seen as a pressing need. Especially after the large tile order given by Sultan Ahmed III to Kütahya in 1709, tile production in these two centers had practically ceased. Historical documents clearly show that no new orders were given to İznik and Kütahya during this period.
The Impact of Political and Social Changes of the Era on the Art of Tiles
During this period, as much as war and political reasons, there were significant changes in architectural and decoration concepts. Ottoman statesmen began to place more importance on Western-style private residences and interior decorations, instead of religious and social structures that symbolized wealth and possessions. This new approach, which became widespread during the Tulip Era (1718-1730), diverged from classic Ottoman interior decoration and reduced the need for tile materials. Religious structures also remained quite limited compared to ambitious architectural and decoration practices based on economic possibilities.
The social and architectural changes of this period played a significant role in directing Ottoman tile-making towards a new path, with the Tekfur Palace tile workshop being at the center of this change. This workshop represents a turning point in Ottoman art history and is considered a critical step for the continuation of the tile art.
The Establishment and Activities of Tekfur Palace Workshops
In 1718, under the leadership of Damad Ibrahim Pasha, one of the significant statesmen of the Ottoman Empire, the Tekfur Palace tile workshops were established near the historic Byzantine-era Blakherna Palaces in the Eyüp district of Istanbul. This initiative began with masters brought from İznik. The establishment of the workshops involved stages like determining the shape and dimensions of the kilns necessary for tile production, sourcing raw materials, and planning production processes. According to the period's Divan records, most of the materials required for the workshops were procured from outside Istanbul. This situation is seen as one of the factors affecting the continuity of production. Despite various interruptions, the workshops operated for about 15 years and ceased production in 1735.
Unique Characteristics of Tekfur Palace Tiles
Tekfur Palace tiles are notable for their unique features: 1. Clay Structure: Similar to İznik tiles but with a less homogenous clay structure. The color of the clay is a yellowish-pink tone, and lead is included in the mixture. 2. Color and Pattern: These tiles are adorned with faded red tending towards brown, cobalt blue, navy blue, turquoise, green, yellow colors, and black contour lines. 3. Motifs: In addition to İznik motifs and variations of these motifs, baroque-influenced flowers, large roses, thin tulips resembling wheat sheaves, and three-dimensional and perspective depictions of the Kaaba distinguish Tekfur Palace tiles from others.
Architectural Works Featuring Tekfur Palace Tiles
The tiles produced in the Tekfur Palace workshops not only brought life to the new architectural structures of the period but also adorned some older buildings. For example, the mihrab of the Yeni Valide Mosque in Üsküdar, built in 1710, might have been decorated with the first products of these workshops. The presence of dates and master names on the tiles used in the Cezeri Kasım Pasha Mosque is an important feature of the tiles from this period. Other significant structures in Istanbul featuring tiles produced in the Tekfur Palace workshops include the Sultan Ahmed III Fountain, the Hagia Sophia Library, the Balat Ferruh Kethüda Mosque, the Hırka-i Şerif Chamber of the Topkapı Palace, and places like Valide Taşlığı. Additionally, the fireplace of the Fuat Pasha Yalı in Kanlıca, which burned down in 1864 and did not survive to the present day, was taken to England at an unknown date and is exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Tekfur Palace tile workshops have gone down in history as a symbol of the Ottoman Empire's efforts to renew the art of tiles. The tiles produced in these workshops, both in terms of their aesthetic qualities and their use in historical structures, form an important part of Ottoman art history. This artistic heritage continues to attract the attention of art lovers both in Turkey and around the world today.