Restorations to Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace after 1574 resulted in major commissions for ceramic tiles. Designed in the imperial workshop in Istanbul, these tiles were executed at the famous kilns of Iznik. This example, when aligned with others of its type, forms a pattern of four floral palmettes, interspersed with red, ribbonlike cloud bands. Many of these tiles remain in situ, having adorned the walls of the Ottoman palace for more than four centuries.
Two Ceramic Tiles (nos. 02.5.91 and 1971.235.2) Major renovations undertaken about 1578 in the private quarters (or harem) of Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace during the reign of Sultan Murad III (r. 1574–95) spurred extensive orders for the production of tiles by the ceramic ateliers of Iznik. Some of the new decorations were unified-field panels—works with a single design executed from a large paper cartoon over a field of many tiles—but the majority, used in the private bedroom of the sultan, consisted of repeating designs based on a single tile. The tiles for the royal bedroom appear to have been produced in numbers more than sufficient for the original project, and some of the extras were used in a small Istanbul mosque built by Hajji Hüsrev, the palace’s chief procurement officer (many others are today found in museums all over the globe). A quarter century later, the Iznik ateliers were commissioned to make more tiles using the same design; these can be identified by their noticeably lower technical quality. The repeating-field tiles commissioned for the sultan’s bedroom, stemming from the most splendid period of ceramic production in Iznik in the 1570s, are archetypically represented by the Metropolitan’s square tile (no. 02.5.91): a central double-curved cloud band of Chinese origin in brilliant red relief under the clear glaze is flanked by two serrated leaves, while half palmettes are centered on each of the four sides, forming whole palmettes when placed next to the identical forms on the adjacent tiles. Similarly, four halves of red cloud bands radiate from the corners, to be continued on neighboring tiles. As a complement to these brilliant white-ground tiles that covered the walls of the sultan’s private quarters, the Iznik artisans created a highly original border consisting of split-leaf forms known as rumi, executed in reserve white and blue on a rich tomato-red ground (no. 1971.235.2). Border tiles from this production run, the first such tiles from Iznik to use bright red as a ground color, were also dispersed widely, and the Metropolitan’s example has parallels in many other museum collections. Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. Other examples of both field and border tiles are found in, among others, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon; the Benaki Museum, Athens; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Unpublished examples of the later copies are found in several collections, including the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Mass. See Denny 1998, pp. 146–47, 150; and Denny 2004, pp. 109, 113.
W. B. Osgood Field, New York (until 1902; gifted to MMA)
Denny, Walter B. Gardens of Paradise : 16th century Turkish Ceramic Tile Decoration. Istanbul: Ertug & Kocabiyik, 1998. pp. 146–47, 150.
Denny, Walter B. Iznik: the Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics. London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004. pp. 109, 113.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 218A, pp. 3, 309, ill. p. 309 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 134-135, ill. pl. 26 (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 140, ill. (color).