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Suleyman, Patron of the Tile-Layers

Suleyman, Patron of the Tile-Layers

3 October 2022

The well-known place of Suleyman the Magnificent in the universe is mentioned in an inscription on the gate of Bender Castle in 1538. Here it is written that Suleyman the Magnificent, the servant of Allah and the Sultan of this universe, as the head of the Islamic community, had khutbahs read in Mecca and Medina, and that he ruled as the Shah in Baghdad, as the Emperor in Byzantium and as the Sultan in Egypt, sending his fleet to the waters of Europe, the Maghreb and India.

The dual role of the sultan in this inscription, religious and secular, found its material form in religious architecture, and the middle period of his reign, from the mid-1530s to the end of the 1550s, witnessed unprecedented activity by Sultan Suleyman in building and repairing religious monuments and endowments for the benefit of his subjects. In his capacity as protector of the holy places, he took care of the pilgrimage and monuments in Damascus, one of the most important destinations on the pilgrimage road. In Baghdad, he restored and tiled the tomb of Abu Hanifa. He paid special attention to Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the population within the city walls he rebuilt tripled during his reign.

On the other hand, the works he built in Istanbul and Anatolia were often designed to commemorate his own family members. He had a mosque built in the name of his father, Sultan Selim, and added a double bathhouse to the mosque in Manisa in memory of his mother. The second major religious structure he commissioned after these is the mosque and mausoleum he had built in memory of his son Mehmed. The striking similarity between the tomb of Sultan Selim and the tomb of Şehzâde Mehmed, both in terms of ground plan and ornamentation, shows that architectural continuity was maintained despite a gap of more than twenty years.

Mehmed was the eldest son of Suleyman the Magnificent and his wife Hürrem Sultan, and in the second half of his reign most commissions for religious architecture came under the auspices of the court of Hürrem Sultan, their daughter Mihrimah Sultan, and the vizier Rüstem Pasha, whom Mihrimah had married in 1539. All of them had a busy building schedule in the 1540s and 1550s, and Mihrimah Sultan until the mid 1560s. The activities of this group began with Hürrem Sultan. Hürrem Sultan had a mosque built in Istanbul in 1538-39, and a year later had a madrassa and a school added to the mosque, making it a complex.

In 1298 the main architect Acem Ali died. He was succeeded by Mimar Sinan, who would dominate Ottoman architecture for the next half century. The Haseki Hürrem Sultan Mosque is Sinan's first large domed building. It was followed by the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque and the construction of a mosque in honor of his brother Şehzade Mehmed, commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent.

Thus, in the late 1530s and 1540s, there were three important developments. One was the commitment to patronage in religious architecture, which Suleyman the Magnificent revived. The increasing involvement of Hürrem Sultan's entourage in the design of monumental buildings was in the same vein. Finally, Sinan honed his architectural and administrative skills during this period, effectively preparing for the construction of Süleymaniye in Istanbul in the 1550s.

The Ottoman ceramic industry was not directly affected by these developments. As a first step, Sinan continued the tradition of colored glazing, the preferred tiling technique of his predecessor Acem Ali. In the 1550s, however, not only the aesthetics of tiles changed, but also the structure of the entire ceramic industry. These were the most important changes since the introduction of frit ceramics.

Although the conditions and the capital driving the changes in the tile industry in the 1550s were prepared by Suleyman the Magnificent, it is unclear who implemented the decisions. Sinan is credited with bringing together the various aspects of structure and decoration into an aesthetic whole. Since in 1640 the İznik tile makers, like the master ceramists, were subordinate to the chief architect of the palace, he may have directly directed the ceramics industry. However, it is not known when this management system was first introduced, but between 1550 and 1585, when Sinan was the chief architect of the palace, İznik tile production reached its peak.

The introduction of red into the tile color palette was both a technical triumph and a crucial factor in the new aesthetic vision that was to dominate İznik ceramics. Red is one of the most difficult underglaze colors to control in ceramics. It cannot be used as a thin melt like other colors. Therefore, it was applied as a thick and fluffy lining. A similar lining was applied on the ceramics of Raqqa in Syria in the Ayyubid period and was rarely used further on Mamluk underglaze tiles and ceramics. The last appearance of red underglaze painting is on a tile attributed to Sayf ad-Din Bayezid al-Zahiri and dated to the second quarter of the 15th century ("İznik," Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, pp. 218-221).

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