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Iznik Tiles that Reach the Present Day

Iznik Tiles that Reach the Present Day

3 September 2021

Before the tile manufacture began in İznik, the tiles that were used in religious buildings such as mosques or tombs in Ottoman capitals (Bursa, Edirne, Istanbul) were produced by foreign traveler masters in workshops near the construction sites. These were white, hard clays on which advanced techniques and extremely rich patterns were applied. Meanwhile, though; glazed pots with soft, red clay were made for the daily use of the vast majority of the public in İznik.

The patterns typical to Chinese porcelain which hold the Middle Eastern market starting from the 14th century started to be used in İznik around 1400. By the end of the 15th century, ceramic production took yet another turn with the manufacture of tiles with blue patterns on white background, in İznik which only had 400 residences. This change of style in the İznik tiles may be related to the masters coming from various localities and the relationships with the Nakkaşhane that Mehmed the Conqueror (Fatih Sultan Mehmet) opened in the Topkapı Palace.

Around that time, the brand-new compositions that the palace masters arranged by diversifying rumi and hatai patterns formed the new palace-style which made its mark on an entire era. This style which first appeared on Ottoman illuminated manuscripts and bindings had its reflections on other fields as well as tile art in a short time and continued in Bayezid II and Selim I eras.

The level reached by the early İznik blue-white tiles was at a rate that was seen in no other Islamic country before. This success was due in part to the skill of the İznik masters in imitating China porcelain. In the same period, other tile masters in the Middle East made such attempts but could not be as successful as their fellow masters from İznik. This high level of success achieved in İznik continued until the 16th century and developed even more.

In the İznik workshops, wall tiles with patterns that were prepared in the palace workshops were produced, alongside ceramic pots. The most beautiful wall tiles were widely used in various pavilions in the Topkapı Palace such as the Baghdad Pavilion and Sunnah Room. On the other hand, it is highly interesting that pots such as plates, cups, or jugs were not found in the Topkapı Palace at all. This inexplicable phenomenon only gets clear when the 16th and 17th-century life in Istanbul is analyzed. As can be seen from the archive documents, during this period, where the most qualified İznik ceramics were produced, interest in foreign products was high among the elite class. China porcelain was deemed much more precious than the İznik ware and the İznik products were bought only for daily use. That is why in the palace collections there are over 10,600 Chinese porcelains. At the same time, İznik tile pots were not kept with the same care and thus their number decreased over time. Another reason for this was the fires that Istanbul had gone through. Until the 19th century, all the buildings in the city were made of wood; other than the mosques, madrasas, and tombs. A fire in 1757 started in Cibali, spread to ten different directions, and destructed half of the settlement within the city walls. In this fire 150 mosques, 130 madrasas, 335 mills, 36 baths, 34,200 shops, and 77,400 houses were burnt. Both shops, palaces of viziers, mansions of major officers and rich merchants, and ordinary houses were destroyed along with the ceramic pots inside them. This is the reason for the scarcity of the samples that reached the present day. The works of art that were found until today are exhibited in the Tiled Kiosk and Archeology Museum.

The exported product admiration in the 16th century continued into the 18th and 19th centuries too, and this time European porcelains were appreciated. Thus, İznik ceramics were not paid attention to once more and the ones that were saved from the fires were tossed away or sold. However, the Europeans had a great interest in the İznik tiles starting from the 16th century and they even tried to imitate them from time to time. The most typical examples of this are the Italian maiolicas and a 10-plate set with the family crest of a European family which was adorned in İznik in the last quarter of the 16th century.

By the end of the 16th century, İznik tiles were articles of trade. As the number of orders coming from inside and outside of the country increased, the masters from İznik began to delay the wall tile demands coming from the palace. We understand that the palace reproached the masters for the delays, from a firman that was issued back in the day. The İznik plates that adorn the walls of many churches in Southern Europe today and the presence of İznik tile pots that were added with precious metal pieces in England in the 16th century are proof that many foreigners bought İznik ceramics in that period.

As the interest in the East and exotic countries increased in the 19th century; many Western merchants, travelers, and diplomats began to collect İznik tiles. İznik tiles are found in many places other than Istanbul; some of these are Rhodes, Damascus, and Jerusalem. The İznik tiles that are exhibited today in many museums worldwide are formed with these pieces. (Atasoy Nurhan, “İznik”, p.17-20)


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