B.2. Development of the new wares:


The 1480s:

The earliest examples of the new Iznik ware date from the 1480s, and thus the investment in this industry must have formed part of the general development of an Ottoman imperial idiom in the arts, which occurred during the reign of Mehmed II (1451-1481). It is circumstantial evidence which dates these wares to the 1480s, because of the similarity of their designs to the album designs of Baba Nakkash; while there is no evidence that Baba Nakkash was ever involved in the production of ceramics, the products of this early phase of Iznik development have been called ‘Baba Nakkash ware’.

The shapes and decoration of the new Iznik ware, as well as the bodies and glazes, were also novel: they are painted in shades of underglaze cobalt blue, with their decoration of densely-conceived arabesques and split-leaves almost always reserved in white against a blue ground, which is a more intensive use of cobalt pigment; the size of dishes averages at about 40 cm (16 in) in diameter, over twice the size of the old ‘Miletus ware’ vessels, but closer in size to Chinese blue-and-white Yuan porcelain dishes. The usual forms of the ‘Baba Nakkash’ vessels are large dishes, footed bowls, hanging-lamps, jars, candlesticks, hanging ornaments, flasks, and even a pen-case (in the British Museum). Many of their designs are more suitable for manuscript illumination, and perhaps the designs were provided by court studios, in the form of paper cartoons such as those in the Baba Nakkash album in Istanbul University Library.

The other obvious source for these dishes are the Chinese blue-and-white porcelain dishes of the Yuan period, which show a similar taste for designs reserved on a blue ground. While the Iznik potters are obviously aware of these Chinese porcelain examples, they are working in a spirit of adaptation rather than imitation. Another inspiration is Balkan silver which was popular in Ottoman Turkey: several early-C16th examples bear the royal tughra including one with an enamelled plaque at the centre which belonged to Sultan Süleyman (1520-66). Many silver dishes have plaques which were prepared separately then in-set inside the bowl with rivets, fixed at the centre with a tiny silver rosette, decorated with arabesques with pointed half-leaves on spiralling stems. Balkan silverware must thus have been another major source of inspiration for Iznik potters: many early Iznik bowls have round central panels resembling the enamel-plaques even to the extent of replicating the silver stud.


Turn of the 16th Century:

There may have been a perceptible lightening of style at the turn of the C16th century. A fixed point in terms of chronology is established by the blue-and-white tiles in the tomb of Shehzade Mahmud in the royal cemetery at Bursa, dateable to 1506-7: these are symmetrically designed with tightly drawn flowers and split palmettes on an interlacing knotted stem, and plain pointed medallions at intervals; traces of gold leaf show they once had additional decoration, and in fact the use of large areas of plain white ground, which may have held extra gilt decoration which has since rubbed off, is a feature of this second phase of ‘Baba Nakkash ware’. The usual forms of this group are large dishes, hanging ornaments, lamps, jugs and deep-footed bowls. The decoration is dominated by intricate knots, possibly suggesting the personal preoccupation of a single artist; other hallmarks are flowers with tight spiral petals and hooked leaves like commas.

Examples of this type are seen in the 4 hanging lamps from the türbe of Bayezid II (died 1512) and a pen-box, now all in the British Museum. The pen-box (c.1520), of a shape derived from a metal origin, is interesting as it combines on one object many of the stylistic features of this phase of Iznik blue-and-white. The same effect is seen on one of the lamps, also now in the British Museum: all of the 4 have identical forms and dimensions, with flaring necks and squat bodies, and with one or more of the current decorative features of this phase, combined in different and ingenious ways. It seems, then, that this is an experimental phase in which the craftsman or craftsmen were attempting to combine motifs from various different sources, such as manuscript illumination and C15th Ottoman book-binding.

There is, however, no reason to suppose a chronological development from the decorative styles of ‘phase one’ to those of ‘phase two’, since they could equally well have been the products of two different craftsmen or ateliers, experimenting in different ways in this period when a new ceramic style was developing.


Back || Contents || Next