Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Hexagonal Tile Ensemble with Sphinx

Object Name:
Tile panel
ca. 1160s–70s
From Turkey, Konya
Stonepaste; over- and underglaze-painted, gilded
H. 9 1/4 in. (23.5 cm) W. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm) D. 1 1/8 in. (2.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack A. Josephson, 1976
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 454
By the early twentieth century, the two-story Konya Köşk had largely fallen into ruin, but architectural fragments speak to its former artistic sophistication and lavish polychrome ornamentation. The upper story of this Rum Seljuq “citadel-palace” was dominated by an iwan with balconies on three sides facing outward over the sultanate’s capital, Konya, thereby functioning as both a belvedere and a point from which the sultan could consider his dominion. The luxurious mina˒i ceramic technique of these tiles is reminiscent of that associated with the luxury vessels made in Kashan, Iran. The stucco reliefs also recall the artistic language developing both in the eastern and western parts of the Seljuq realm, which eventually extended into Christian lands, as seen in comparable stucco reliefs found at the Armenian capital at Ani. The imagery of real and fantastic animals and scenes of equestrian combat aimed to re-create an earthly paradise or the ideal life and just dominion of the sovereign presiding over this cosmos. It also offered supernatural and magical protection to the ruler, his entourage, and the sultanate. The Konya Köşk, although situated in an urban environment, evoked the ideal natural setting awaiting the sultan at his country pavilions as well as the paradisiacal ideal awaiting him in heaven.
Unlike in Iran, where there is little archaeological evidence attesting to the court architecture of the Great Seljuqs, a considerable number of palatine complexes, pavilions, and other courtly monuments survive in parts of Greater Syria, the Jazira, and Anatolia once controlled by the Seljuq successor states. Among the most notable examples is the palace at Konya known as the Alaeddin, or the Konya Köşk. It is the earliest datable court monument in the Rum Seljuq realm, as well as one of the few remaining examples of early Rum Seljuq architecture in Anatolia. The building and its decoration exemplify the aesthetics of Rum Seljuq court architecture in general as well as several of the leitmotifs specific to the Anatolian visual and artistic vocabulary in particular. The Köşk further demonstrates how the Rum Seljuqs created a material culture of distinctive hybridity by blending Persianate artistic traditions inherited from Iran and Central Asia with local styles rooted in Byzantium and the ancient eastern Mediterranean. Finally, when considered in a broader context that encompasses the lifestyle of the Rum Seljuqs, the Konya Köşk sheds light on the movable attitude of the Rum Seljuq sultans and their courts.
Konya, known since antiquity as Ikónion or Ikonium, became the capital of the Rum Seljuqs under Sultan Kılıç Arslan I (r. 1092–1107). However, it was only during the reign of Kılıç Arslan II (r. 1156–92) that the city saw a significant increase in its wealth and political influence, a time that coincided with the Rum Seljuqs’ subsummation of other Anatolian principalities. Rum Seljuq territorial expansion reached its height after the sultanate assumed control of several port towns along the Mediterranean and Black seas, including Antalya (1207) in the south and Sinop (1214) in the north. The establishment of Rum Seljuq rule over nearly all of Anatolia led to a commercial, artistic, and cultural golden age that lasted until the mid-thirteenth century, flourishing in particular under ‘Ala’ al-Din Kay Qubad I (r. 1219–37).
As the capital of the sultanate, Konya was at the heart of this efflorescence. The city’s magisterial köşk was built under Kılıç Arslan II in the 1160s–70s, and refurbished by Kay Qubad I in the second quarter of the thirteenth century. Together with a complex that includes the Great Mosque, a tomb, and a madrasa, it is among the earliest surviving Rum Seljuq architectural monuments in Konya and Anatolia. The formerly two-story monument was built halfway down an ancient tell (now called Alaeddin Tepe) atop one of the bastions or towers of the citadel; in the medieval period, such “citadel- palaces” frequently served as royal residences in the eastern Mediterranean and, in the Rum Seljuq realm, were often complemented by garden pavilions in nearby suburbs or rural areas. Indeed, Kay Qubad I was said to have built more palaces and pavilions (saray wa kushk) than could be described. Among those that survive, Kubadabad, built along Lake Beysehir according to a design by the sultan himself, remains the best known and most storied.
Ancient ruins and materials were repurposed for use in the lower levels of the köşk, a not uncommon practice in the Seljuq successor states, particularly in the lands of Rum. At Aspendos, for instance, the ruins of the Roman theater were incorporated into another palace for Kay Qubad I, where figural tiles on the interior of one of the staircase buildings are comparable to those found at Kubadabad, and large fields of red-and-white painted checkerboard or zigzag patterns are painted on the exterior of both staircases, a distinct pattern that the Rum Seljuq ruling elite used to mark the exterior of courtly buildings. Additionally, antique sculptures adorn the Konya city walls, among them an acephalous Hercules at one of the entrance gates, and repeated references to the Hellenistic hero Iskandar (Alexander the Great) appear in the form of his name, inscribed on buildings and state documents, and in his invocation as an ideal and just ruler in the Hadayek al-siyar, a “mirror for princes” composed for Kay Qubad I. All this suggests that the Rum Seljuqs identified themselves with the glory of Antiquity.
By the early twentieth century, the Konya Köşk had fallen largely into ruin, but fragments of tiles and of stucco reliefs, as well as opus sectile (cut-stone mosaic) and a monumental stone sculpture of a seated lion, probably one of a pair, speak to its former artistic sophistication and lavish polychrome ornamentation. The upper story was dominated by an iwan, an element typical of Iranian court architecture from as early as the Sasanian palace at Ctesiphon, and which began appearing in Islamic court architecture in the early Islamic period. The iwan of the Konya Köşk had balconies on three sides facing outward over the city, thereby functioning as both a manzara, or belvedere, and a point from which the sultan could consider his dominion. A now lost inscription band, in white naskhi on a dark blue ground, quoting the name and titles of Kılıç Arslan II framed the Persianate arch of the iwan wall, while the spandrels to either side (and possibly other parts of the building as well) were filled with a complex interlace pattern of cross- and star-shaped and polygonal tiles. Thus, these tiles belonged to the first Seljuq construction phase that took place under Kılıç Arslan II. Decorated in mina’i and gold, these tile ensembles are reminiscent of the luxury ceramic vessels developed by potters in Kashan, Iran, but on vessels rather than tiles, from which the technique was probably brought to Konya.
Deniz Beyazit in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
Octave Homberg(until 1908; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, May 11–16,1908, no. 125); JeunietteCollection, Paris (from 1908?); Alphonse Kann, Paris (until 1927; his sale, American Art Association,New York, January 6–8, 1927, no. 233, to Kevorkian); The Hagop Kevorkian Fund, New York (1927–76; its sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York,May 8, 1976, no. 103); Mr. and Mrs. Jack A. Josephson, New York (1976; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 20a.

Galerie Georges Petit: M. O. Homberg Collection. Paris: Galerie Georges Petit, 1908. no. 125.

Sarre, Friedrich Dr. Der Kiosk von Konia. Berlin: Verlag fur Kunstwissenschaft, 1936. pp. 19ff, 50, ill. pl. 6.

Lane, Arthur. "Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia." In Early Islamic Pottery. Faber Monographs on Pottery and Porcelain. London: Faber and Faber, 1947. p. 43.

Otto-Dorn, Katharina. Turkische Keramik, Veroffentilichungen der Philosophischen Fakultat der Universitat ANkara Nr. 119, (1957). p. 31ff, ill. pl. 10a.

Miller IU. A. Khudozhestvennaia Keranika Turtsii. Leningrad, 1972. p. 15.

Sotheby's: Antiquities and Islamic Works of Art. New York: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1976. no. 103, May 8, 1976.

Ettinghausen, Richard. Archives of Asian Art. vol. XXXI (1977–1978). p. 138.

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 22, p. 22, ill. pl. 22 (color).

Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture 650–1250. 2nd ed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. p. 251, ill. fig. 414 (color).

Walker, Alicia. "Middle Byzantine Aesthetics of Power and the Incomparability of Islamic Art: The Architectural Ekphraseis of Nikolaos Mesarites." Muqarnas vol. 27 (2010). pp. 80-81, ill. fig. 4 (color).

Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 20a, pp. 81-87, ill. p. 81 (color).

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