Tile decoration became one of the basic elements of architecture and rose to the status of monumental art in Seljuk and Ottoman periods in Anatolia. Without such decoration the architecture of those periods would certainly lose a great deal and present an
The ceramic art was brought to Anatolia by the Great Seljuks of Iran.
The simplest process was that used in the production of plates glazed in a single
color. Turquoise, dark blue, green and purple were the shades used. This technique is
difficult and tedious, however, the multi-colored technique came to be preferred.
Up to the middle of the sixteenth century multi-colored tiles were made in glazes of various
In minai, or anamel work, seven colors are produced by firing to twice, some under the glaze, some on top. A transparent glaze containing lead is used for under-glaze work; an opaque glaze containing zinc, for over-glaze
In the second half of the sixteenth century, all other methods were abandoned in
favor of the under glaze technique. The procedure is as follows; a prime coat is applied to the
ceramic plate; the outlines of the desired pattern are then drawn on it; the pattern
colors are applied; the prepared plate is dipped into the glaze, dried and fired. In the kiln the transparent glaze becomes a thin layer of glass which preserves and
enhances the colors.
All the tiles seen in the monuments of the Seljuk and Ottoman periods of Turkish history were produced by one or other of this methods. The tiles remaining from the Alaettin Kiosk, Konya, built by Kilic Arslan in 1160, As well as those found in the
excavations there, were all produced by the minai process, gold plating being used.
Following the abundance and versatility of the thirteenth century, comparative stagnation and deterioration appeared the way for a new and even finer era in ceramic art far more splendid than anything that had gone before. This new
splendor came with the Ottoman period.
The oldest Ottoman tiles which adorn the minared of Green Mosque at Iznik (Nicaea) infuse new, richer nuances of colour into the Seljuk technique and style. The seemingly infinite variety of shades of turquoise and green used give this mosque its name.
Bursa mosaic tiles were produced at Iznik, the greatest ceramic center in Ottoman days, and partly perhaps at Bursa. They were made by the two glaze techniques, of which the under-glaze process was first used by the Anatolian Seljuk Turks. After Bursa, the Muradiye Mosque at Edirne (1436) has the richest the most varied collection of early Ottoman Tiles.
After this brilliant opening period Ottoman ceramic art branched out on new lines following the
conquest of Istanbul, where is to be seen the first monument embodying the rich new style of tile decoration
encouraged by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. This is the Cinili Kiosk of 1472. The tiles of this small place are related, not to those of Bursa and Edirne, but directly to the Seljuk ceramics. In fact, the portal in the form of an Eiwan arch has an unmistakable resemblance to that of the Sercali Medrese at Konya.
The opening years of the sixteen century saw the foundation of a steady development in the ceramics industry in Istanbul. Mosaic and gilded monochromatic tiles disappeared in
favor of square plates made by the colored glaze process. The earliest specimens of these are in the Turbe and Mosque built in 1522 by Suleyman the Magnificent for his father, Sultan Selim. Changes in
color and design are apparent.
In the second half of the sixteenth century the colored glaze technique was abandoned
in favor of the under-glaze process, and a clear white base with clear, bright glaze became the rule. Six
colors were mainly used: turquoise, mid-blue, light blue, a rich dark green, red, white. Black was occasionally used too. The general rule was a pattern of five
colors on a clear white ground.
The tiles of Rustem Pasha Mosque (1561) have, among other innovations of design, forty-one different tulip patterns. In the Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque (1572) at Sultan Ahmet, and Piyale Pasha Mosque (1574) at Kasımpasha a brilliant coral red is made to stand out in relief. This raised red tile, which is thought to have been a discovery of Iznik ceramic shops, continued in use till the beginning of the seventeenth century and then disappeared. Possibly the craftsman who invented the process involved died without
passing on his secret.
The best specimens of tiles in which this coral red was liberally used are collected at Topkapı Palace, whose walls, indeed, display the richest collection of Ottoman tiles from all periods.
At the Selimiye Mosque, completed at Edirne in 1575 by the architect Sinan, the walls on
both sides of the mihrap, and the Sultan's loge on the right, are covered with a very rich tiles decoration. The large panels on the wall of the mihrap are very harmonious in color and composition. By their soft gleam they create a colorful atmosphere, but the tiles in the Sultan's loge were done with more painstaking technique.
The tiles in the Eski Valide Mosque (1583) at Uskudar also deserve a place among the most attractive specimens of the coral red period. The tiles in the mosque of Takkeci Ibrahim Aga (1592) beyond the Walls at Topkapı and those in the türbe of Sultan Murat III (1600) at Ayasofya, bring to an end the most brilliant period of the sixteen century.
In these tiles coral red, deep blue and turquoise are widely used. The panel with supple vines and grape clusters, covering the wall beside the pulpit, has gained widespread admiration.
The brilliant architectural progress of the 16th century played an important role in the sudden awakening and unprecedented enrichment in the field of ceramics, which had not yet lost its strength at the opening of the 17th century. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque in 1617, which is the richest tiled monument next to the Topkapı Palace, shows this clearly. The seventy diverse composition formed from these pieces which are mostly in green, blue and turquoise, red is used only in the carnations, tulips and other flowers. Although these tiles reflect a high level of ability in composition, their designs are more schematic and conventionalized. The coral red has lost its
lifelines and brilliancy. In fact, after this mosque a steadily increasing retrogression and
deteriorations reveals itself in ceramic art.
After the middle of the 17th century a speedy retrogression in ceramic art sets in. In the tiles of Yeni Cami completed in 1669 at Istanbul, and on the türbe behind it, the colors are quite degraded. These tiles cannot be compared with those of the first half of the same century.
Through the efforts of Damad Ibrahim Pasha a ceramic workshop was set up at Tekfur Saray and tiles thus again began to be made at Istanbul. The tiles on the Sultan Ahmet Fountain and Hekimoglu Ali Pasha Mosque (1734) are from these workshop.
These are a product with green, blue, pale red and a newly recurrent yellow decoration on a dirty bluish background, with a poor
glaze. This workshop did not become productive.
The most brilliant period of Turkish ceramics covered the 13th, 15th and 16th centuries, plus the first half of the 17th. The Turkish tiles of these centuries, which preserve limitless treasures for the decorative arts, are somewhat better known than our other artistic productions.
The Seljuk tiles must have been made in the workshops of Konya and the other Seljuk cities. Thereafter all tiles from the Ottomans up to the present have been prepared primarily at Iznik (Nicaea), secondly at Kütahya, Istanbul and perhaps
Bursa, the designs being sent from the place at Topkapı. While Iznik ceramics disappeared in the 18th century, the fact that the industry is even today thriving at Kütahya is evidence of its strength.
by Prof. Dr. OKTAY ARSLANAPA
"Porcelain Gallery" Pages