In the mid-sixteenth century Iznik tile makers were still developing both the artistry and the technological capacities that were to result in the large-scale production of high-quality polychrome ceramics in the last four decades of the century. Crucially, tile makers abandoned the hexagonal format that had previously dominated their output in favor of square tiles such as this superb example. They also adopted a black line to outline artistic motifs and developed repeating modular patterns such as this one, which flowed smoothly from tile to tile both vertically and horizontally. Made before a standard square format approximately 10 3/8 inches ( 26.5 cm) on a side became the norm at Iznik, this tile is slightly larger and grander than tiles from later in the century.
The design, incorporating the complex floral palmettes and curved, decorated leaves of the Ottoman saz style, is deceptively simple. A complete panel of these tiles could not be made from identical examples, because the right and left half palmettes (as illustrated) are not identical: one has an edge of round lobes, whereas the other is deeply serrated. Thus, there must be a second mass-produced pattern to complete the design, an exact mirror image of this tile (indeed, examples of both designs are found in various museum collections). Providing us with an example of the overall effect is a group of similarly patterned tiles that was at some later time placed together on the exterior wall of the Rüstem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul (completed about 1561). Shortly after this tile was made, in about 1550, the underglaze red color made its debut at Iznik, and although Iznik artists repeatedly returned to the earlier palette of blue and turquoise on white for ceramic wares, tiles in this coloration and size were not to be made again in the sixteenth century. Larger and rarer than the bulk of Iznik modular tile production and striking in their simplicity, tiles such as this mark a crucial phase in the ever-changing and dynamic relation between designer and tile maker, Istanbul and Iznik.
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Illustrated in Denny, Walter B. The Ceramics of the Mosque of Rüstem Pasha and the Environment of Change. [Garland] Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts. 1970. New York and London, 1977, fig. 113.
[ Charles Dikran Kelekian, New York]; Richard Ettinghausen, Princeton, NJ (until 1978; gifted to MMA)
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. 217, pp. 287, 308, ill. p. 308 (color).