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Turkish Ceramic Art of the 20th Century

Turkish Ceramic Art of the 20th Century

3 November 2022

Traditional pottery in Anatolia can be divided into two groups according to the quality of production and the social class for which they are intended. These are the centers for the production of high-quality products and centers for folk pottery.

In Çatalhöyük and Hacılar, the settlement centers of the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods in Anatolia, there is pottery dating back to 5000 BC. The Hittite civilization and Mesopotamia were the sources of the wealth of ceramic art in Anatolia. The use of the wheel, which began in the eastern and southeastern regions of Anatolia, first appears in the Aegean region with Troy. Around 1200 BC, terracotta relics were found during excavations in Smyrna, Klazomenai, Fokai and Samos.  Among them are examples with geometric patterns. The Phrygians and Lydians also developed their own forms of decorating clay vessels. It is believed that the tradition of amphorae, which were used for transporting wine and oil, continues in Menemen pottery to this day.

Important pottery relics from the Roman and Byzantine periods have been found during various excavations. The sgraffito, colored glaze applications, and figure compositions on Byzantine ceramics form a smooth transition between Seljuk and Ottoman ceramics. During the Seljuk period, Iranian ceramics influenced Anatolia, and artists were brought from Iran. Over time, this influence created a style all its own and left its mark on the history of ceramics with Anatolian Seljuk and Ottoman ceramics.

In the Seljuk period of the 13th century, works were produced in the techniques of underglaze, gloss, minai and slip painting. There are applications with tiles, glazed bricks and mosaics. Turquoise, eggplant purple and colors close to black attract attention.  The examples in which these colors are used are mostly successive decorations that adopt the principle of infinity. The tiles of Kubadabad Palace, Kayseri Keykubadiye Palace, Diyarbakır Artuklu Palace and Konya Alaeddin Palace contain numerous stylized figure compositions. When the Seljuks came to Anatolia, they brought with them the traditions of Central Asia and Islamic art, and they brought a breath of fresh air to ceramic art by being influenced by the Byzantine ceramics present in Anatolia.

The pottery of the 14th century from the period of the principalities shows a simplification in comparison with the Seljuk period. Iznik and Kutahya develop into new production centers. While Iznik produced mainly palace wares, Kutahya produced works for the public. The colors turquoise, purple, green and dark blue dominated in the Principalities and early Ottoman periods.

In the 15th century, the blue and white porcelain of the Ming period from China influenced Ottoman tile art. İznik developed inferior copies of these porcelains and created a whole new group of works, namely blue and white Ottoman ceramics. From the second half of the 14th century to the late 15th century in the Aegean Region, ceramics with abstract floral patterns in dark blue tones are referred to as Miletus. However, it has been found that the production center of these specimens was Iznik.

Iznik was one of the most important centers for tile production during the Ottoman period. Tile production, which started in Iznik in the first years of the 15th century, developed so much in a very short time that the city was named "Tiled Iznik". Evliya Çelebi, who visited Iznik in the 17th century, reports in his travelogue that people in nine quarters of this city lived from tile and pottery production and that there were 340 tile stoves in Iznik. Coral red, which was created after 1557, gives the tiles a special beauty. But successful tiles were also made in the early 17th century. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, the Revan and Baghdad Pavilions of the Topkapı Palace, and the two sides of the door of the Circumcision Hall were decorated with tiles from this period. Over time, architectural activities declined considerably due to lack of funds and the production of Iznik tiles began to decline. Tile manufactories that could no longer receive orders gradually began to close down, and in 1716 tile production in Iznik ceased completely.

In the 16th century, the source of the peak of the development of tile art should be sought in the Palace Art Room. Tile art of the 16th century is not a folk art, but a state-sponsored industry. During the reign of the Magnificent, there was the "kashigeran company," a society of tile makers, within the organization of Ottoman palace artists, Ehl-i Hiref. After the 17th century, the art of tile-making supported by the palace declined and Kutahya, which produced popular products, came to the fore.

From the 15th century, Iznik ceramics and tiles underwent a technological change that was to lead to their greatest glory, based on the production of quartz-containing clay (hard and white clay) instead of clay. These ceramics, which looked almost like soft porcelain, began to replace Chinese porcelain with their blue and white decoration.

In Europe, which had not switched to porcelain production, Iznik ceramics became a valuable imported product and wall decoration. Ordered wares with the coats of arms of established European families can be found in various collections, and shards of these wares were also found during the excavations in Iznik. Iznik pottery was in fashion for a time in the Middle East, Egypt, the Mediterranean islands, and the West, and was exported in large quantities.

The production of Iznik tiles, which had its heyday in the 15th-17th centuries, came to a halt at the end of the 17th century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the West and the decline of state investment in the field, and the industry became extinct in the 18th century. During this period, the workshops of Kutahya emerged, able to work more economically and focus on the products of daily life.

Ceramic production, which began with the Phrygians in Kutahya and its surroundings, developed continuously until the end of the Byzantine period. Kutahya remained a transitional zone between the Seljuks and the Byzantines for more than 100 years. Byzantine and Seljuk artistic features were used together in the production of tiles during this period. Later, Ottoman influence made itself felt in Kutahya, during the time of Principalities.

After Iznik workshops switched to white paste production, they continued their development with the support of the palace. Kutahya, on the other hand, became a second center, supporting Iznik when needed and maintaining its production for the needs of the public until today.

In the 18th century, during the reign of Ahmet the 3rd, the Grand Vizier Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Pasha brought some materials and craftsmen from Iznik. He wanted to revive tile making and opened a tile workshop in Tekfur Palace in Istanbul. These works, notable for their gray and green glazes, never reached that level of quality.

From the late 17th century to the mid-20th century, Canakkale developed into an important center of ceramic production. It is not known when ceramics production began in Canakkale, where the shapes plate, hollow bowl, jug, pitcher and vase were commonly used. The galleon and sail motifs on these works, made by craftsmen from the beige clay of the region, tell of Canakkale's connection with the sea.

In short, the presence of terracotta materials in the first civilizations founded in Anatolia has been proven by archaeological excavations. Whether in the Hittite civilization, ancient Greece, Byzantium or in the period of the Great Seljuks and the Anatolian Seljuks and principalities, there were many centers where ceramics were used and produced. Chinese products that came through the Silk Road also reached Anatolia during the period of the Ottoman Empire, and thus Iznik specimens similar to the blue and white ones from China, , were created in Anatolia using Anatolia's own soil. Later, centers such as Kutahya and Canakkale come to the fore. In the last period of the Ottoman Empire, products with European motifs entered our ceramic art from the reign of Abdülhamit onwards and increased thereafter ('Turkish Ceramic Art of the 20th Century’, Gül Erbay Aslıtürk, pp. 65-71).


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