Some of the earliest Iznik stonepaste ceramics are distinguished by delicate underglaze‑painted blue decoration on a white ground. The meandering vine of two‑toned flowers and the white‑on‑blue decoration of this small bowl link it to an early group of ceramics referred to as Baba Nakkas (literally, "Papa Designer") ware named for an artist employed by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444–46, 1451–81).
Iznik, the Ottoman name for the old Byzantine city of Nicaea incorporated into the early Ottoman Empire in 1331, had been a center of ceramic production from later Byzantine times onward, but only at the end of the fifteenth century did ceramists at Iznik first make what art historians call "fine ceramics" (from the German Feinkeramik) of high artistic quality. This bowl exemplifies the first period of Iznik production, when new techniques and a new style influenced by the Istanbul court began to be reflected in the work; the close ties that the artisans at the Iznik kilns developed to court designs and court patronage in Istanbul were to endure for well over a century.
The style of the bowl’s decoration, executed in light and dark blue under a clear glaze, closely parallels drawings in black ink discovered in an album in Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace Museum. These drawings are thought to have been made by a designer named Baba Naqqaş (literally, Father Designer), who worked in Istanbul’s imperial design atelier in the fifteenth century. As a consequence, Iznik blue-and-white ceramics in this style have been dubbed the "Baba Naqqaş group." The curved side of the interior of the bowl is decorated with four stylized cypress trees with bifurcated tops; cypress trees are a recurring motif in Ottoman art, where they may either symbolize sanctity (such trees are often planted in cemeteries and mosque courtyards) or function as a metaphor for a beloved (Ottoman poetry frequently uses the trope of a cypress for a beautiful woman). These alternate with ogival blue-ground cartouches bearing white flowers in reserve; the curled petals of these flowers, ornamented with tiny dark blue teardrop-shaped forms, are characteristic of the Baba Naqqaş style. The exterior of the bowl shows an arabesque of blossoms connected by vines in the same style, in blue and light blue, on a white ground.
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See Atasoy and Raby 1989, pp. 96–100.
[ Dikran G. Kelekian, New York, until 1932; sold to MMA]
Chicago. Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. "Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and Its Impact on the Western World," October 3, 1985–December 1, 1985, no. 72.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 45, pp. 40-41, ill. pl. 45 (color).
Carswell, John. "Catalogue of an exhibition at David and Alfred Smart Gallery, University of Chicago." In Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and Its Impact on the Western World. University of Chicago: University of Chicago, 1985. no. 72, pp. 33, 130-131, ill. fig. 10 (color).
Atasoy, Nurhan, and Julian Raby. Iznik : The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, edited by Yanni Petsopoulos. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989. pp. 96–100.
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. 207, pp. 298-299, ill. p. 298 (color).