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Ceramics From The Time of Sultan Selim I.

Ceramics From The Time of Sultan Selim I.

3 September 2022

The years 1510 were marked by the campaigns of Selim I, which led to the temporary capture of Tabriz and the final conquest of Damascus and Cairo. Selim's reign was short, and the campaigns left him no opportunity to promote the arts. The impact of his reign in terms of productivity was small; there were few architectural initiatives and no major changes in the minor arts in terms of style, technique, and quantity. In the long run, however, his contribution was very important, for Istanbul was enriched by the spoils of Selim's victories. The spoils included both people and objects and opened the doors of Ottoman art, including pottery making, to new influences and ideas.

From Tabriz, Selim brought at least two scribes, Abd al-Rezzak and Burhan. Habib of Tabriz is listed as a scribe in a document dating from 932/1525, with ten apprentices of various origins at his disposal. At least since 1523, Habib had been receiving wages. After an interruption of about ninety years, this Tabriz-led workshop reintroduced for the first time the technique of colored glaze (cuerda seca), which had been brought to Turkey by earlier masters from Tabriz and had disappeared from the Ottoman tile repertoire after the construction of the Muradiye Mosque in Bursa in 1430. The workshop was responsible for all surviving monarchical tiles until the construction of the Süleymaniye Mosque of the 1550s. It is not clear what close artistic and technical relationships existed between İznik tile kilns, which specialized in the underglaze technique, and colored glaze, but in general they benefited the İznik tile makers as their tiles became a central part of imperial architecture. Although the colored glaze technique remained predominant until the 1550s, there was also evidence of a marked increase in the production of underglaze tiles. After an interruption of about thirty years between 1479 and 1506-7, the revival of interest in tiles undoubtedly worked in their favor providing İznik ceramists with a new source of sustenance.

Selim brought 38 master artists from Tabriz, including 16 miniature artists. The most influential of them was Şahkulu, who, as we shall see later, created a completely new style of ornamentation in the second quarter of the 16th century and was to be appointed master miniature artist of the palace in 932/1526. Although Selim had the honor of acquiring these artists, the contributions of Şahkulu and the tiler Habib only became visible in the first decade of Suleyman the Magnificent's reign. The same is true for Chinese ceramics, which exerts another important influence on Ottoman tile-making. Selim's loot from Tabriz includes 64 Chinese porcelains from the Heşt Behişt Palace. An undetermined number of Chinese porcelain pieces were also brought from Cairo. Regardless of the number of pieces, the quality of the pieces brought from the Safavid and Mamluk courts must have been very impressive. It is not surprising that in the 1520s, when Ottoman porcelain makers began to respond systematically to Chinese porcelain, they turned their attention to 14th- and 15th-century antiques rather than contemporary trade goods.

In the longer term, Selim's conquests were important because they gave the Ottomans access to the Indian Ocean and thus a closer connection with the western end of the porcelain trade route. This must have encouraged the importation of Chinese porcelain into Istanbul. However, unlike the ceramics of the 14th and 15th centuries, which, as we shall see, were to play a crucial role in the later development of Ottoman tile-making, the imports of the 16th and 17th centuries had little impact on the decorative aspirations of İznik tiles of this period. In fact, they ultimately had a negative impact on the economic viability of İznik ceramics.

All of these were long-term aspects of the Selim era. In the 1510s, there was a continuous production of ceramics, the most important aspect of which was the expansion of the market base. The tendency to go public was characterized by several factors. One of them was the expansion of the distribution, both geographically and socially ("İznik," Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, pp. 96-98).


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