Department of Traditional Turkish Arts
The art of Turkish tiles and ceramics occupies a place of prominence in the history of Islamic art. Its roots can be traced at least as far back as the Uighurs of the 8th and 9th centuries. Its subsequent development was influenced by Karakhanid, Ghaznavid, and (especially) Iranian Seljuk art. With the Seljuks’ victory over the Byzantines at Malazgirt in 1071, the art followed them into Anatolia and embarked upon a new period of strong development fostered by the Anatolian Seljuk sultanate.
The Anatolian Seljuks were of course influenced by the cultural heritage they encountered in their new homeland, adapting them to the techniques that they had brought with them from the Iranian plateau. This resulted in a distinctively Anatolian style of Seljuk architecture that was in full bloom by the 13th century. Seljuk mosques, medreses (theological academies), tombs, and palaces were lavishly decorated with exquisite tiles. Examples of such tile-clad structures can still be seen in the Seljuks’ capital city of Konya as well as in the cities of Sivas, Tokat, Beysehir, Kayseri, Erzurum, Malatya, and Alanya.
The most frequently-encountered type of architectural decoration during the Anatolian Seljuk period involved the use of glazed brick in which glazed (and also unglazed) bricks were arranged to produce a variety of patterns, mostly on the facades of buildings. Turquoise was the most frequently-used color for glaze although cobalt blue, eggplant violet, and sometimes black were also popular.
A type of architectural decoration used in conjunction with glazed brick was hexagonal, triangular, square, and rectangular monochrome tiles. Unlike brick, these were preferred for indoor applications and were suitable for a multiplicity of geometrical arrangements. Tiles were made from a paste that was harder and more yellowish than that of bricks. Turquoise, cobalt blue, violet, and (sometimes) green glazes were used. There are rare examples with traces of gilding.
A third technique in which the Anatolian Seljuks were skilled was that of mosaic tile. This was also employed in interiors, especially in mihrab niches, the interiors of domes, transitions to domes, vaults, and walls. Tile mosaic is formed by pieces of tile cut to shapes to fit the pattern intended. The unglazed surfaces of the tesserae are slightly conical. The pieces were arranged glazed-side down after which a whitish mortar was poured over them. When it had set, the resulting plate or panel could be installed where desired. Mosaic-tile compositions are generally geometrical but floral motifs and Kufic or Thuluth calligraphy are also found. The most popular colors were turquoise, cobalt blue, eggplant violet, and black. Examples of Anatolian Seljuk buildings decorated with mosaic tile are Karatay Medrese (Konya, 1251), Alaaddin Mosque (Konya, 1220), Gok Medrese and Mosque (Sivas, 1271), the Malatya Grand Mosque (1247), and Ince Minareli Medrese (Konya, 1264).
In addition to these techniques, which, along with underglaze, appear in religious and funerary architecture, there were two techniques employed only in civil and palace architecture: minai tiles and luster tiles. The forms of these tiles were also different, the favorite shapes being stars and crosses; instead of geometric patterns, vegetal scroll and lively figurative compositions were used.
The minai technique was developed in Iran in the 12th and 13th centuries mainly in ceramics. The only place in Anatolia were tiles of this type have been found is Alaeddin Kiosk in Konya. The palette of colors that this technique offers is much greater and one finds shades of violet, blue, turquoise, green, red, brown, black, and white as well as gilding. Some colors were applied under the glaze and then fired; others were applied over the glaze which then received a secondary opaque white, transparent, or turquoise glaze and was fired again. The designs of minai tiles are lively and reminiscent of miniatures with themes taken from palace and court life.
In underglaze tiles, the designs are painted onto the surface, which is then glazed before the tile is fired. This was the technique most commonly used by the Anatolian Seljuks. The preferred colors were turquoise, cobalt blue, green, violet, and black. Instances of black-decorated tiles under a turquoise glaze are also found. Fine examples of these tiles have been discovered at the excavations of the Kubadabad Palace in Beysehir, where the tiles are decorated with plant motifs as well as with figures of human beings and animals.
The luster technique first appeared in Abbasid Iraq. Later developed to a high level by the Fatimids in Egypt, it was successfully employed by the Iranian Seljuks. The only place in Anatolia where luster tiles have been found is Kubadabad. The tiles discovered at the excavations of the palace are now on display at the Karatay Medrese Museum in Konya. Luster tiles are decorated in an overglaze technique in which the design is painted with lusterÄ¿a mixture of metallic oxides incorporating silver and copperÄ¿onto a previously glazed and fired surface. The tiles are then given a second firing at a lower temperature producing a range of lustrous, mostly brownish and yellowish tones. Seljuk palace luster tiles are decorated with plant motifs as well as with human and animal figures.
Anatolian Seljuks sometimes used square, rectangular, hexagonal, and triangular tiles to cover interior walls. These tiles are plain, with turquoise, violet, or cobalt blue being the chief colors applied in the underglaze technique. Sometimes the traces of overglaze gilding are to be found; however because the gilding was fired at a low temperature (or not fired at all), it was not durable and has mostly disappeared.
Excavations carried out in 1965-66 at Kalehisar near Alacahoyuk have revealed important evidence of the Seljuks’ ceramics industry in the 13th century. Two kilns were unearthed along with a substantial quantity of kiln material and incomplete and spoiled examples of ceramics decorated with the sgraffito and slip techniques.
In the sgraffito technique, the object is allowed to dry to leather-hardness after which the design, usually plant and floral motifs, is incised into the surface, which may or may not be given a coat of slip beforehand. The resulting design is then covered with a transparent glaze of a different color and then the piece is fired.
In the slip technique, the design is painted onto a red-paste surface using diluted white slip to produce a slightly molded effect. The surface is then given a coating of transparent glaze colored blue, green, or light or dark brown and then fired. During the firing, the areas decorated with slip assume a lighter shade of the glaze color, which appears darker in the ground. Motifs are stylized plant motifs and sometimes simple rumi (arabesque scroll).
Emirate-period tiles are generally a continuation of Seljuk techniques with one important exception: the introduction of the cuerda seca technique, which was subsequently developed by the Ottomans. The earliest examples of this group are dated to the late 14th and early 15th centuries. In this technique, a red paste is given a coating of white slip. The design is stamped or carved into the surface after which colored glazes are applied. The contours of the designs are picked out with a mixture of beeswax or vegetable fat and manganese oxide. During the firing, the wax or fat burns away producing contours of red or black that also prevent the differently-colored glazes from running into one another.
The cuerda seca technique permits extremely complex and detailed designs to be applied to ceramic surfaces. In addition to plant motifs, examples decorated with calligraphy and (less commonly) geometric patterns that are a continuation of Seljuk traditions are to be found. A rich and subtle palette of colors was available with colors such as turquoise, cobalt blue, lilac, yellow, black, and pistachio. Gilding was also used. Fine examples of cuerda seca tiles are to be found at the Bursa Green Mosque (1419-1420) and Tomb (1421-1422) the Mosque of Murad II (Edirne, 1436), the Tiled Kiosk (Istanbul), and the Tomb of Prince Mehmed (Istanbul, 1548).
Sgraffito and slip-decorated wares continuing Seljuk techniques and styles were also produced during the Emirate period. During early Ottoman times, they appear among Iznik wares reflecting the tastes of folk art.
In the course of excavations at the site of ancient Miletus, the archaeologist and art historian F. Sarre came across a type of polychrome pottery that erroneously became known as ‘Miletus ware’. We now know, as a result of recent excavations, that these wares were actually made in Iznik. These red-paste ceramics appear during the second half of the 14th century. They are decorated with motifs executed in tones of blue, turquoise, and violet under a colorless or colored glaze. Examples in which the motifs have black contours are also known, as are pieces with black decorations under a turquoise glaze. The principal forms are bowls and dishes. A feature of most ‘Miletus’ ware is that the interiors are given a coating of slip but part of the exteriors and the bases are not. Designs tend to be plant motifs and geometrical arrangements but animal figures are also encountered. Most compositions suggest the influence of the designs found on metal wares. One, a composition of thick motifs radiating around a central motif, is identical to the grooved designs on metal bath-bowls.2