Kütahya Tiles and Ceramic Art from the Ottoman Period - İznik Mavi Çini
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Kütahya Tiles and Ceramic Art from the Ottoman Period

Kütahya Tiles and Ceramic Art from the Ottoman Period

3 August 2022

Kütahya, which was the second important center of tile production after İznik in the Ottoman period, was a city where ceramic production was intensively practiced in the Phrygian, Hellenistic-Roman, and Byzantine periods due to the rich clay deposits in the area, and where this art is still traditionally practiced today.

Although studies on the status of ceramics from the Beylik and early Ottoman periods in Kütahya, which occupies an important place in the history of Turkish ceramics and has a long and continuous ceramic production, are still insufficient, it is clear from recent finds and publications that there is a certain parallelism with İznik and that one can speak of a similar production system. Faruk Şahin, who examined the pottery sherds found during an excavation in Kütahya in 1979, found that Kütahya was contemporary with İznik in terms of pottery production. Among these finds are examples of pottery from the early Ottoman period and the period of the Beyliks, which were originally produced in İznik as recognized by the whole world but are mistakenly known as "Miletian" pottery. They are decorated with abstract flowers and simple geometric motifs in dark cobalt blue, manganese purple, turquoise, and black, with red paste, white slip, and sometimes with incised patterns (sgrafitto). Faruk Şahin explained that they were made locally as they are slightly different from İznik made pottery. Although they have the same characteristics as İznik pots, the glaze on these specimens is thinner and small cracks are visible. Also, the colors are darker, suggesting that these pieces are close to the colors of the Anatolian Seljuk tiles.

The oldest tiles from Kütahya are the monochrome glazed tiles on the minaret balcony of the Kurşunlu (Kasımpaşa) Mosque from 1377. Other early examples include the turquoise glazed hexagonal and triangular tiles and the colored glazed border tiles with Rumi palmette patterns used on the sarcophagus and floor of the tomb of Germiyanoğlu Yakup Bey II Imaret in 1428, which is now used as the Kütahya Tile Museum, as well as the turquoise glazed tiles used to cover the walls and floor of the last assembly room of the İshak Fakih Mosque, which was converted into a tomb, before repairs were made. The decoration of these tiles resembles the decoration of the tiles of the Muradiye and Yeşil Madrasas in Bursa, and this similarity is considered to indicate the relations between Kütahya and Bursa.

Two of the most famous examples of Kütahya pottery from the 16th century are now in the British Museum in London (Godman Collection). The first is a pitcher from 1510 with an inscription in Armenian. The base of this pitcher, striking for its distinctive shape, bears a six-line inscription, "In memory of Abraham of Kütahya, servant of God, on this year's March 11, 959 (1510)." The pitcher is decorated with Rumi and Hatai motifs, and the dragon-shaped handle is decorated with fish scales. This decoration reappears in a further stylized form on 18th century Kütahya pottery. The other is a broken-necked jug ordered to Kütahya in 1529 by Bishop Der Mardiros as a gift for a monastery in Ankara. The Armenian inscription on the base reads "Kütahya made". This jug, which is further evidence that the craftsmen of Kütahya produced pottery that bore resemblance to İznik made works, shows that İznik was not the only center for the production of pottery called "Haliç made" or "spiral tuğrakeş style" and that the craftsmen of Kütahya had a market that extended to Ankara.

While there is some information on the blue and white patterned pottery of Kütahya from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, there is no information on the pottery from the mid-16th and 17th centuries. For this reason, Ottoman tiles and ceramics made in the 16th and 17th centuries are generally considered to have originated in İznik.

The documents destroyed in the burning of the Evkaf office and the Shar'i'i registers have left many questions related to the production of Kütahya tiles in the dark. According to the accounts of those who saw these documents before they were burned, Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasha had a tile workshop built next to his madrassa in the Balıklı district of Kütahya and had tiles made here for his mosque in Eminönü, Istanbul, which bears his name. It is also claimed that some of the tiles in this mosque may have been made in Kütahya, as they have a different style from the İznik tiles. Another opinion says that Mimar Sinan sent the designs he had the painters draw to different workshops in İznik and Kütahya, and that he preferred the patterns from İznik and had the tiles for the Süleymaniye Mosque made by craftsmen from İznik. This shows that İznik, which was also supported by the palace, was more important than Kütahya, and indicates that there was advanced tile production in Kütahya as well. However, the absence of coral red tiles, the characteristic color of this century, among the Kütahya finds should also be taken into account.

Written documents clearly show that Kütahya tile production was quite important in the 17th century. An edict to the qadi of Kütahya from 1607-8 indicates a dispute between İznik and Kütahya over raw materials. The Narh book from 1600 shows that Kütahya ceramics entered the Istanbul market due to the loss of quality of İznik ceramics and were sold at a higher price than İznik made products. In the estate of Hacı Hürrem Bey from 1623, 12 İznik ceramics, 7 Chinese plates and 1 Kütahya plate are recorded; it is noteworthy that the İznik plate is valued at 60, the Chinese porcelain at 150 and the Kütahya plate at 500 coins.

The famous traveler Evliya Çelebi mentioned in his travelogue that İznik and Kütahya plates were exhibited together in a parade in the presence of Murad IV in 1633, and also mentioned that when he visited Kütahya in 1671-2, there were 34 workshops of tile makers in Kütahya, while there were only nine workshops in İznik, and that the beauty of Kütahya tiles was impressive. This shows that although production in İznik declined, it remained vibrant in Kütahya.

At the beginning of the 18th century, tile production in İznik almost came to a standstill. Although there was a breakthrough in Kütahya, there is no evidence in historical sources and archival documents that further orders were placed either in İznik or in Kütahya, except for the order of 9,500 tiles to Kütahya in 1710 for the repair of the palace of Fatma Sultan, the daughter of Sultan Ahmed III. The work written by Çelebizade İsmail Asım states that there were no orders placed for tiles from centers such as İznik and Kütahya and that the value of tiles declined for reasons such as the political concerns of state leaders and fatigue from campaigns and wars, impoverishing those engaged in this art.

In the 18th century, vessels for daily use and religious objects were also produced in Kütahya in shapes and forms based on the daily needs of the people, which were never used in İznik. Far Eastern influences are very evident in the works of pottery. However, the most important is the bright yellow color, which does not feature in İznik pottery as opposed to the tiles and ceramics of Kütahya from the beginning of the century.

From the second half of the 18th century, the quality of the paste and glaze deteriorated, the colors dripped, and the drawing became weaker.

After the 19th century, there was a revival of tile and ceramic production. With the 2nd Constitutional Monarchy, the field of architecture was also influenced by the changes in the political, social, economic and cultural spheres, and a new architectural movement emerged, based mainly on the ideas of Ziya Gökalp. The main feature of this movement, which is called the 1st National Architecture Movement, is that the building elements of Seljuk and Ottoman architecture are taken into account and tile is given prominence in the decoration of buildings because of the predominant architectural style. In line with this movement, public and private buildings in major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Konya were decorated with Kütahya tiles. The quality of the paste and glaze has relatively improved, and the patterns are based on the İznik tiles of the 16th century.

In the early years of the Republic, the number of tile and ceramic workshops in Kütahya increased with state support. Today, in Kütahya, where there are many workshops, there is still mass production for tourist purposes, rather than traditional production that continues from the past (''Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics'', pp. 9-15).

If you want to see the Kütahya tile pitcher exhibited in the British Museum in London, you can click on the link below.

https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_G-1

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