Appreciation – İznik Tiles

İznik Tiles is the type of ceramics developed and generally created in a town named (obviously) İznik in Turkey. It has a significant place in Turkish art, since it decorates many of Turkey’s famous landmarks and finest artifacts. This is especially apparent when 1989 was proclaimed İznik Year because of the ceramics contribution to Turkish (specifically art) History.

History of the Iznik, its Ceramics and Pottery.

İznik is a town in Turkey that sits near the Lake İznik. The site of this town is formerly known as Nicaea, famous for the Councils of Nicaea. It is founded by one of Alexander The Great’s successor, Lysimakhos, who named the town after his wife. As it is one of a crossroad for a trade route, it became a great important trading city. Greek, Roman and Byzantine traders frequent the city and also settled there as well – this can be seen from the remnants of Roman theatre. It is a significant site for Christianity as well, for it held Councils of Nicaea. In 325AD, during the reign of Constantine, the first Council of Nicaea was held against the Arian Heresy, which in turn decides one of the most fundamental part of Christian theology – the argument of whether Jesus is a divinity or a mere mortal. The doctrine of the Trinity was then decided in 381AD, where it consists of Jesus, The Father and the Holy Spirit. The second Council of Nicaea met in 787AD held in the Church of Hagia Sophia (modeled after the one in Constantinople) where it decides the issue of Iconography in Christian belief. It was briefly ruled by the Seljuk Turks in the 13th century, but was again under the rule of the Second Ottoman Sultan, Sultan Orhan Gazi I in 1331.

The city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) fell in 1453, and with that the importance of İznik also dwindle. However, it later became famous for its pottery making in the 17th century, called İznik Çini (Çini basically means Chinese in Turkish) copying the Chinese porcelain preferred by the Turkish Sultans. It was used to decorate many buildings, for example mosques (for example the Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul) and palaces (Topkapi Palace). It remained the place for quality İznik Çini, however, soon after the industry went to Istanbul.

Plate with blue and white spiral decoration. Earthenware with painted decoration on slip, under lead glaze, İznik ceramic, ca. 1530–1540. photographer – Marie-Lan Nguyen. Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

The Designs and its Origins –
Chinese porcelain was very popular and sought after by the wealthy by the 14th Century, so İznik potters was to compete with the fine imported porcelains. They copied Chinese Porcelains from  the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. they can easily copy them because the motifs already influenced early Timurid art. It gained the favours of not only local patrons but also their European counterpart. The style of blue designs with floral and vegetal motifs characteristic of the İznik tiles are called Baba Nakkas, a popular style during the rule of Sultan Mehmet II. However the style gradually changes during the reign of Sultan Bayezid with the incorporation of interlaced designs and Chinese cloud bands. During the reign of Sultan Selim I, the industry moved to Istanbul in which the Saz design was introduced, pioneered by one of the sixteen painters named Sah Kulu. His designs include spiral scrolls – the so-called Golden Horn – derived from Tughras (Royal Seals) of the Sultans, particularly the Tughra of Suleyman the Magnificent.

the colours are traditionally blue and white, but turquoise was added in the 1530s. In the 1540s, more colours in the shades of  mauve, purples and greens were added. The designs, as noted above, mostly derived from the Chinese motifs, but soon after, motifs such as human or animal representations are introduced. Perhaps the most popular representations and motifs used by the İznik potters are extensive designs of flowers, trees, pomegranates and artichokes as well as hyacinths, lilies, tulips, carnations, roses, scrollwork and geometric designs. The craftsmen created many items from decorations for buildings to daily items such as plates, bowls, ewer, lamps, candlesticks, vases and the like. The best ones are produced during the reign of  Suleyman the Magnificent up till the 17th Century.

Tile panel with flowers. Earthenware, transparent glaze, painted underglaze on slip. Turkey: Iznik, second half of the 16th century



Filed under Appreciation

2 responses to “Appreciation – İznik Tiles

  1. Really interesting blog! I appreciate all the work you’ve put into it.

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