Turkish Ceramics

The art of Turkish tiles and ceramics occupies a place of prominence in the history of Islamic art. Its roots can be traced at least as far back as the Uighurs of the 8th and 9th centuries. Its subsequent development was influenced by Karakhanid, Ghaznavid, and (especially) Iranian Seljuk art. With the Seljuks' victory over the Byzantines at Malazgirt in 1071, the art followed them into Anatolia and embarked upon a new period of strong development fostered by the Anatolian Seljuk sultanate. A distinctive style of Seljuk architecture was in full bloom by the 13th century. Seljuk mosques, medreses, tombs,
and palaces were lavishly decorated with exquisite tiles.  The most popular colors were turquoise, cobalt blue, eggplant violet, and black.

The late 15th and early 16th century marks the beginning of a new period in Ottoman tile and ceramic-making. The most important centre active at this time was Iznik. Designs prepared by artists who were employed in the studios of the Ottoman court were sent to Iznik to be executed in wares ordered for use at the palace. The court's patronage stimulated and supported the development of an artistically and technically advanced ceramic industry in Iznik.

The earliest example of the new styles that emerged in the early Ottoman period are the 'blue-and-white' Iznik ceramics. The styles, designs, decorations, and techniques of these ceramics are quite distinct from Seljuk traditions. These changes in the Iznik potters' production habits are attributed to attempts to imitate the 15th century Chinese Ming porcelains that were reaching the Ottoman court in various ways. The decorations include stylized foliage, arabesques, and Chinese clo
uds alone or in skillfully-executed compositions.

By the middle of the 16th century, naturalistic motifs such as tulips, roses, pomegranates and hyacinths begin to enrich the repertoire of stylized plant designs and arabesques, in a variety of colours. At this time there was a strong surge in the demand for tiles as decorations in the extensive building programs undertaken by Suleiman I (1520-1566) and his successors when the Ottoman Empire was politically, economically, and culturally at its peak. Countless examples of mosques and tombs not only in Istanbul but all over the empire were adorned with the products of the Iznik potters' skill.

Different styles of calligraphy adorn the tile friezes on monuments; there is also a proliferation of deep and footed bowls, vases, ewers, dishes, lamp
s, candle-holders, and mugs, and the decorations now include images of ships, 'rock-and-wave' motifs, triple-spots, animal figures, and fish-scale patterns alongside the more traditional flower and plant designs.

To summarize, the art of Turkish tile and ceramic-making developed over the centuries incorporating many different techniques and styles. Enriched by the arrival of the Seljuks, the ceramic industry in Anatolia achieved a deservedly worldwide reputation with the support of the Ottoman court. Today, Kutahya has been revived as an important centre of tile and ceramic-making. In addition, efforts are also being made in private workshops and educational institutions in Iznik, Istanbul, and Bursa to keep the art of traditional Turkish tiles and ceramics alive and develop it so that it can address the demands of modern-day life.