İznik Mavi Çini The Rise and Fall of Art in the Ottoman Empire: The History of Iznik Pottery and Tiles - İznik Mavi Çini
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The Rise and Fall of Art in the Ottoman Empire: The History of Iznik Pottery and Tiles

The Rise and Fall of Art in the Ottoman Empire: The History of Iznik Pottery and Tiles

3 January 2024

The Iznik tiles that adorned the palaces of the Ottoman Empire and are today admired in museums around the world, dazzle with their vibrant colors and elegant designs. They offer more than just aesthetic beauty; they are a vivid representation of the Ottoman Empire's ways and policies of supporting art. This article will focus on the evolution of Iznik tiles during the Ottoman period, the palace's influence on this art form, and how this influence changed over time. The richness of colors and delicacy of patterns in Iznik tiles tell the story of the palace's patronage over art and how this art shaped into a cultural heritage. This journey, stretching from the empire to the present day, will be an exploration of the state's impact on art and the profound influence of art on social and cultural identity.

The Ottoman Palace's Influence on Art and Its Reflection in Iznik Tiles

The rich history of Iznik ceramics can be understood from decrees dating back to the early 17th century, revealing the close relationship between the Ottoman palace and Iznik workshops. This artistic craftsmanship can be considered a palace art shaped by the direct influence of the palace. In the mid-1550s, ceramic production, under the palace's order, focused more on tiles. However, the palace's neglect and administrative difficulties accelerated the decline of this art. The palace played a significant role as both patron and creator of the art.

Technical Development and Artistic Transformations: The Evolution of Iznik Tiles

Initially, Iznik ceramic masters worked on low-cost Milet-style earthenware ceramics. These were limited in form variety and generally consisted of products like bowls and plates. Glaze and underglaze applications allowed for rapid production of these items. However, the first fritware ceramics developed under Baba Nakkaş were costly. Experiments to perfect this new technique increased costs. Nevertheless, for the palace, cost was not a factor overriding quality and artistic value. Baba Nakkaş's ceramics, initially inspired by Chinese porcelain, started with inspiration but the expression was uniquely Ottoman. While the quality, size, and colors of Chinese porcelains were taken as a benchmark, forms and patterns embraced the Ottoman's original approach. In the 16th century, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, Iznik ceramics gained a unique character influenced by the Ottoman palace painting of that era. Ceramics, drawing inspiration from early 15th century Ming blue-and-white porcelains, were adorned with detailed depictions on bright white backgrounds. This period marked the entry of Iznik ceramics into an era reflecting the style of the Ottoman palace. This artistic evolution is characterized first by Şahkulu's saz style and poetic interactions between 1530-1555, and then by the historical narratives in miniatures of the late period of Suleiman the Magnificent and descriptive naturalism of Kara Memi. This artistic process reflects the profound impact of the Ottoman Empire in the field of art and significant milestones in the development of ceramic art. When examined both technically and aesthetically, Iznik ceramics are an excellent example of the palace's influence on art and the rich heritage created by this influence. Iznik ceramics, when considered in terms of preserving and understanding our historical and cultural heritage, reveal that each detail of these artworks tells a story that sheds light on our past and inspires the future.

From Palace Patronage to the Free Market: The Commercial Journey of Iznik Tiles

From the 1470s to the mid-16th century, the Ottoman palace demanded elaborate ceramics. These ceramics, becoming widespread around 1500, were exported to a vast geography from Moscow to Sofia to Genoa by the late 1520s. However, in the second half of the 16th century, priority shifted to tiles and ceramics took a backseat. This change brought new freedom and innovation to ceramic patterns.

The 17th century marked the most evident period of structural and artistic changes in the Iznik ceramic industry. During this time, the palace's interventionist role decreased, and it began purchasing mass-produced tiles from shops in Istanbul. Between 1630-1670, contrary to previous pattern diversity, work was focused on tiles with the same patterns. Even without the artistic and financial support of the palace, Iznik masters continued production for another century. However, the tile orders for the Valide Mosque and the Captain Ibrahim Pasha Mosque in Üsküdar in 1708 were not of a quality befitting the old glory of Iznik tiles. The greenish glaze and tendency to peel, and the faded appearance of the red color, reflected the state of the art at that time. Vezir Ibrahim Pasha intervened, requesting in 1718 from the judge of Iznik the revitalization of old workshops and determination of costs, but this initiative was not successful. Then, Vezir facilitated the establishment of a frit workshop in Tekfur Palace and brought two ceramic masters and special quartz grinders from Iznik to Istanbul. Tekfur Palace tiles, though not reaching the quality of 16th-century Iznik tiles, continued production for 15 years and were placed in various mosques. For more information on this revival effort and the tiles of Tekfur Palace, you can read our article titled "The Tekfur Palace Experiment" at The Tekfur Palace Experiment.

Preserving Art and the Future of Cultural Heritage: The Importance of Iznik Tiles

The contributions of the palace to Iznik tilemaking supported the creation and development of the art on one hand, while gradually abandoning this art form to its fate over time. The neglected and dried-up fig trees of Iznik, as described by the German traveler Lubenau in 1588, could also symbolize the state of Iznik tilemaking. Just as gardens require constant care, the miniature gardens in Iznik tiles also need attention and care. This analogy highlights the importance of preserving Iznik tilemaking as both an artistic and cultural heritage.

The evolution of the art of Iznik ceramics and tiles during the Ottoman Empire and the state's significant influence on this process is evident. Iznik ceramics are not just aesthetic objects but vivid representatives of the state's ways of guiding and supporting art. The role of the Ottoman palace as both patron and customer in shaping this art is felt in every aspect, from the patterns of the ceramics and tiles to their colors and techniques used. However, the eventual decline in palace support and the subsequent abandonment of ceramic art led to its transformation and ultimate decline. The history of Iznik ceramics and tiles is an excellent example of the state's influence on art and how this influence can change over time. It not only highlights the art of a historical era but also emphasizes the importance of preserving our cultural heritage and passing it on to future generations.


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