One of the most spectacular Iznik pieces in the Museum’s collection, this saucer‑shaped dish displays a palette of rich blue and bright turquoise characteristic of early Iznik ceramics. The floral scrolls on the cavetto are inspired by fifteenth-century Chinese celadon ware.
Unique in the history of Turkish ceramics, the design of this rimless dish is executed in turquoise together with two values of blue. The sources for the reticulated central field and the arabesque of lotus blossoms around the cavetto, or curved part of the dish, were long a mystery, until it was pointed out in 1972 that the dish was in fact an ingenious and highly creative adaptation of a famous and familiar Chinese Ming porcelain design. Indeed, the original Chinese design, with a similar geometric grid and an arabesque of lotus blossoms, vines, and leaves, is found in Ming celadon wares, those pale gray-green ceramics so highly sought after by patrons of the Middle East in part because of their purported ability to detect poison added to food. So different in color is the Ottoman work from the Chinese prototype that the relation between the two traditions had long gone unnoticed.
In the artistic culture of Iznik ceramic wares, the concept of a set of identical objects was almost entirely absent. Each plate, each tankard, each vase, bottle, and jug was individually decorated, and even when a paper template was used the colors and details were never the same. In the middle third of the sixteenth century, in an extremely dynamic artistic atmosphere, Iznik artists were experimenting with new techniques (a polychrome palette), new shapes (expanding on the traditional repertoire of forms taken from Chinese porcelain or Islamic metalwork), and, above all, with new designs. When the Altman dish was created, an underglaze gray-green was available to Iznik artists, but it was a thin and uneven pigment totally different in effect from the thick and creamy pea-soup green of the Chinese celadons. Thus, the artist of the Metropolitan Museum’s dish took his design from a celadon prototype but chose to realize the conception in a painterly, delicate, and masterfully executed composition using a translucent blue and turquoise together with a darker cobalt blue. The Altman dish vividly illustrates the maxim that acts of artistic creation often begin with acts of creative seeing.
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Pope 1972, pp. 135, 138.
Henry G. Marquand, New York (until 1903); Benjamin Altman, New York (until d. 1913; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery. "Flowers and Leaves: The Ottoman Pottery of Iznik," September 25, 1991–November 15, 1992, no catalogue.
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