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Iznik Tiles that Reach the Present Day

Iznik Tiles that Reach the Present Day

3 September 2021

Iznik tiles, a dazzling artistic legacy of the Ottoman Empire, have transformed into a cultural phenomenon over centuries, pushing the boundaries of art. These bright and colorful ceramics, once adorning the walls of Ottoman palaces, now form the most valuable collections in museums around the world. The story of Iznik tiles represents not only an aesthetic achievement but also a symbol of technical innovation and cultural synthesis. In this article, we will explore the rich history of Iznik tiles, their role at the intersection of art and science, and their evolutionary journey over time. Diving into the stories behind these mesmerizing artworks, we embark on a journey from the Ottoman capitals to the present day. So, how were these unique pieces created and how have they reached our time? Step into the colorful world of Iznik tiles and discover their rich history and the embodiment of art in this captivating journey. In this adventure spanning from the Ottomans to the present, we will travel through the depths of history with the stories told by each tile.

Tile Masters in Ottoman Capitals

Before the initiation of tile production in Iznik, tiles used in religious buildings such as mosques and mausoleums in Ottoman capitals (Bursa, Edirne, Istanbul) were manufactured by foreign traveling craftsmen in workshops set up near construction sites. During this period, products embellished with highly advanced techniques, white hard paste, and rich motifs were available. In contrast, in Iznik, red soft paste glazed pots for daily use by the general public were still being made, showcasing the diversity of the region's ceramic art.

The Synthesis of East and West in Iznik Tiles

From the 14th century, patterns unique to Chinese porcelains, which dominated the Middle Eastern market, began to be used in Iznik around 1400. By the end of the 15th century, ceramic production in Iznik, then a town of only 400 households, had entered a new era with the manufacture of blue-patterned tiles on a white background. The stylistic development seen in Iznik tiles of this period can be linked to the settlement of craftsmen from various regions in the city and their relations established with the Nakkaşhane opened by Fatih Sultan Mehmed in Topkapı Palace.

Reflections of Ceramic Art in Ottoman Palaces

During this time, palace craftsmen created new compositions by diversifying rumi and hatayi motifs, forming a new palace style that defined an era. This new style first manifested in illuminations and bindings and soon reflected in other areas including ceramic art. This transformation continued during the periods of Bayezid II and Selim I.

The Golden Age of Blue-White Iznik Tiles

The level of achievement of early Iznik blue-white tiles was unprecedented in any Islamic country. This success was partly due to the skill of Iznik craftsmen in imitating Chinese porcelains. Other ceramic craftsmen in the Middle East attempted similar experiments at the time but were not as successful as their Iznik counterparts. This high quality continued in a development process until the 16th century. You can see the reflections of the elegant and symbolic blue-white Iznik tiles of this period in our special designs like Pedestal Bowl, Rumi&Cloud.

Topkapi Palace and the Uniqueness of Iznik Tiles

In addition to ceramic vessels in Iznik workshops, wall tiles were also produced in palace workshops according to the patterns prepared there. The most beautiful wall tiles produced during this period were extensively used in various pavilions of Topkapı Palace, such as the Baghdad Pavilion and the Circumcision Room. However, it is interesting that ceramic dishes, plates, cups, and pitchers produced during the same period are not found in Topkapı Palace. This situation becomes clearer when examining 16th and 17th-century life in Istanbul. Archive documents suggest that during this period, when the highest quality Iznik ceramics were produced, the elite had a fascination with foreign products. Chinese porcelains were considered much more valuable than Iznik ceramics, which were only purchased for daily use.

The Rarity of Iznik Tiles and Istanbul Fires

The rarity of Iznik ceramic vessels and the abundance of Chinese porcelains in palace collections reflect the social and cultural preferences of the period. Additionally, fires in Istanbul contributed to this situation. Until the 19th century, most of the city's structures were wooden, leading to significant damage from fires. Notably, the 1757 fire starting in Cibali and destroying half the city, incinerated 150 mosques, 130 madrasas, 335 mills, 36 baths, 34,200 shops, and 77,400 houses. Consequently, ceramic vessels in shops, viziers' palaces, the residences of high officials, and wealthy merchants' houses were damaged or destroyed. Therefore, the number of Iznik tiles that have survived to the present day is quite limited, and the surviving pieces are now displayed in the Çinili Köşk and Archaeology Museums.

Europe's Interest in Iznik Ceramics

In the 16th century, the admiration for imported products continued into the 18th and 19th centuries, when European porcelains gained value. Consequently, Iznik ceramics were again neglected, with those saved from fires either set aside or sold. However, Europeans had shown great interest in Iznik tiles from the 16th century, even attempting to imitate them at times. A typical example is the set of 10 plates decorated in Iznik in the last quarter of the 16th century, featuring the coat of arms of a European family, akin to Italian majolicas.

The Global Spread of Iznik Ceramics

By the end of the 16th century, Iznik ceramics had become a commercial commodity. With increasing orders from both domestic and foreign clients, Iznik craftsmen began to postpone wall tile requests from the palace. A decree published complaining about delayed palace orders indicates this shift. Today, Iznik plates adorning the walls of many churches in Southern Europe and Iznik ceramic vessels with valuable metal additions in 16th-century England are evidence that many foreigners purchased Iznik ceramics during this period.

Global Collectors of Iznik Tiles

With the increased interest in the East and exotic countries in the 19th century, many Western merchants, travelers, and diplomats began collecting Iznik tiles. Iznik tiles have been found in various places outside Istanbul, including Rhodes, Damascus, and Jerusalem. Today, many museums around the world display Iznik tiles collected from these pieces.

Iznik Tiles: An Artistic Journey from History to the Present

In this article, we examined how Iznik tiles hold a significant place in Ottoman art, their technical developments, and cultural impacts. Both adorning the walls of Ottoman palaces and now as prized pieces in modern museums, Iznik tiles stand as a heritage intertwined with art and history, stretching from the Ottomans to the present. Each of these unique artworks tells its own story and reflects our cultural richness. If you want to see and experience this historical and aesthetic beauty and bring it into your living spaces, we invite you to explore our collection. Here, you can discover our special handmade designs inspired by the modern interpretations of historical Iznik tiles and bring a piece of this unique art into your home.


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