As demand for the ceramic production of Iznik increased by the end of the sixteenth century, especially in the area of tile decorations for public and private monuments, Iznik itself fell victim to a series of calamities, including catastrophic fires, the debilitating effects of silicosis (from the dust of the ground flint used for the white ceramic body), lead poisoning (lead is the flux used in the clear glaze that covers Iznik ceramics), the malaria endemic to the Iznik lakeshore that affected the ceramic artisans, and, as we have seen (no. 02.5.55), a price structure that forced Iznik artists to sell tiles at a price that did not cover the costs of labor and raw materials. As Iznik declined, however, new manufactories in the Ottoman Empire sprang up to meet the continuing demand for tiles. One of these, at Diyarbakir in southern Turkey, was briefly active at the end of the sixteenth century. Another arose in the sixteenth century in the provincial Ottoman city of Damascus in Syria, where tiles were produced for over a century.
The Metropolitan Museum’s Damascus tile panel utilizes a distinctive palette of dark blue, light blue, turquoise, and touches of pale green, with a black line, painted on a white slip and covered with a transparent glaze. The size of the six individual tiles, each almost a foot square, is slightly larger than the standard square tile used at Iznik. The panel combines two tile designs, each effectively a mirror image of the other, to create a repeating design of parallel undulating grapevines ornamented with distinctive dark-blue grape leaves, vine tendrils, and small bunches of grapes. Differences in the individual tiles suggest that the overall design may have been executed freehand over a large field of tiles, rather than each individual tile having been painted from the same paper template. Such variations, almost never found in Iznik production, are a common feature of Damascus tiles in the seventeenth century. Virtually identical tiles are found in the Darwishiyya Mosque in Damascus, erected in 1571.
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See Raby, Julian. "Diyarbekir: A Rival to Iznik." Istanbüler Mitteilungen 27–28 (1977–78), pp. 429–59.
2. Porter, V. 1995, pp. 116–19.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 50, pp. 44-45, ill. pl. 50 (color).
Porter, Venetia. Islamic Tiles. London and New York: Interlink Books, 1995. pp. 116–119.
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. 219, pp. 310-311, ill. p. 310 (color).