This tile matches a border frieze adorning the portal of the tomb of Sultan Mehmed I (r. 1403–21) in Bursa, where monuments were badly damaged in an 1855 earthquake. It has a deeply carved pattern of lattices formed by pairs of undulating vine scrolls that meet at regular intervals along the centerline. The interlacing of the arabesque lattices is complex, but clarity is achieved through the use of different colored glazes. The tile predates the period, later in the fifteenth century, of widespread Chinese influence on Ottoman Turkish ceramics. In its deep relief and choice of colors, it exhibits similarities to tiles of Timurid Central Asia dating from the late fourteenth century, a resemblance probably explained by the documented presence of Persian tileworkers in Bursa at that time.
Four deeply molded interlaces of foliated scrolls, which lie along a central axis, embellish this polychrome-glazed border tile. The sophisticated rendering of the design was achieved through the use of a contrasting palette of white, turquoise, and dark blue with yellow and gold accents that highlight the axis of the ogee-shaped vine scrolls. This tile once belonged to a group that decorated a wall of the Green Tomb (Yeşil Turbe) in Bursa, the mausoleum of Sultan Mehmed I (r. 1413–21), and matches the border friezes decorating the left side of the entrance portal of the tomb. Enriching the decorative program of the tomb, this interwoven pattern is used repeatedly along with tiles bearing similar patterns that cover other surfaces, such as the outer border friezes of the exterior windows and the columnar borders of the tomb’s mihrab. Tiles in this technique are among the earliest produced under Ottoman patronage. The decorative program of the Yeşil Turbe in Bursa was supervised by the designer Nakkaş ‘Ali, a native of Bursa who was trained in Timurid Samarqand (Transoxiana). The tilework has been attributed to the Masters of Tabriz based on an inscription on the mosque’s mihrab. The vertical arabesque design of the tiles as well as the entire decorative repertoire of the tomb exhibit affinities with Iranian tilework of the same period. Tilework techniques used in the complex built for Mehmed I include tile mosaic, monochrome tiles, polychrome tiles in the cuerda seca technique, and carved and molded tiles. Such a rich variety of techniques and patterns—including polygonal, vegetal, calligraphic, and three-dimensional decorations—provides the tomb complex with a unique and somewhat eclectic character that exploits the full range of contemporaneous tilework. Furthermore, the tile’s deeply molded decoration, which parallels that of tiles from fourteenth-century Kashan and Timurid Central Asia, demonstrates the complexity and universality of the decorative repertoire. The connection to Iran and Central Asia can be explained by the fact that either foreign ceramic artisans were brought to Bursa, where they worked in their native idioms, or local artists such as Nakkaş ‘Ali went there and learned new techniques, enriching the production in Bursa. Other tiles and tile elements from this tomb complex with the same technical and stylistic characteristics as the Metropolitan’s example are preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Maryam Ekhtiar and Ayse Pinar Gokpinar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. The tomb was a part of larger complex of a mosque and other buildings (an imarethane and a medrese) that were built between 1419 and 1424 to commemorate the revival of the Ottoman Empire right after Timur’s defeat of Bayezid I in 1401. 2. According to Tashköprüzade, a sixteenth-century Ottoman biographer, ‘Ali ibn İlyas ‘Ali was a native of Bursa and was carried off to Transoxiana by Timur. See Ahmad Tashköprüzade. Al-Shaqa’iq al-Nu‘maniyya fi ulama’ al-daula al-‘uthmaniyya. Edited by Ahmet Subhi Furat. Istanbul, 1985, p. 437, as cited in Necipoğlu, Gülru. "From International Timurid to Ottoman: A Change of Taste in Sixteenth-Century Ceramic Tiles." Muqarnas 7 (1990), p. 136. 3. For more on the mihrab inscriptions of the Yeşil Mosque, see Riefstahl, Rudolf Meyer. "Early Turkish Tile Revetments in Edirne." Ars Islamica 4 (1937), pp. 249–81. For more on the Timurid connections with the tilework of the Yeşil Mosque and Yeşil Turbe, see Carswell 1998; Denny 2004; Necipoğlu 1990 (see footnote 2); and O’Kane 1987, pp. 64–72. 4. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (nos. 1617–1892, 1620–1892, and 1621:1-2-3). 5. T he lower part of a muqarnas panel is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (no. M.85.237.79). The technique of this tile’s molded relief decoration is similar to that of another tile in the same collection (no. M.73.5.1), probably from Kashan and assigned to the early fourteenth century.
Yesil Türbe, tombof Sultan Mehmed I, Bursa, Turkey(early 15th century–at least 1855); Private Collection, England; [ Momtaz Islamic Art, until 1998; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part II: Vegetal Patterns," September 10, 1998–January 10, 1999, no catalogue.
O'Kane, Bernard. Timurid Architecture in Khurasan. Islamic art and architecture, Vol. 3. Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 1987. pp. 64–72.
Carboni, Stefano, Daniel Walker, and J. Kenneth Moore. "Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1997–1998; Islam." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 57, no. 2 (1998-1999). p. 10, ill. (color).
Cardwell, John. Iznik pottery. London: British Museum Press, 1998.
Denny, Walter B. Iznik: the Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics. London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004.
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. 216, pp. 307-308, ill. p. 398 (color).