Blue and White Underglaze Enamelled Tiles

Blue and White Underglaze Enamelled Tiles

Blue and white tiles form another distinct group in the Ottoman art of enamelled tile-making and they were made between the first half of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century. The underglaze technique, which had been applied only on tiles intended for the royal palaces in the Seljukid period, reappeared in the Ottoman period in the form of blue and white tiles and found a different area of architectural use. These tiles are referred to, in the history of art, as “underglaze” because the colours (turquoise and blue) are applied to a white background, after which a transparent glaze is applied. Examples also exist where white has been applied to an ultramarine background. Rare examples exist, for example in the Demirtaş Baths in Bursa (early 15th century), where small amounts of purple and turquoise have also been used. Blue and white were used much more commonly in ceramic plates in the early Ottoman art. There are many similarities between these enamelled tiles and ceramics, and the 15th century Ming Dynasty porcelain of China, in terms of both colour and design. Ornamentation consists of peonies and other flowers with wreaths of ivy, together with the stylised clouds and dragons found on Chinese Porcelain. The hard and superior quality white tiled clay similar to porcelain clay’s clear shiny glaze and exquisite designs, all come together to make these tiles exceptional examples.

Blue and white enamelled wall tiles and ceramics were produced in İznik and Kütahya. Many fragments of blue and white enamelled tiles were found in the course of excavations at İznik.  We understand, from various royal decrees commissioning enamelled tiles, that İznik was an important tile center from the 15th century onwards. The smaller number of finds excavated at Kütahya provide similar information. An analysis of the enamelled tile clays proves that the blue and white tiles on the sarcophagi of the Crowned Prince Ahmet and the Crowned Prince Mahmut are similar to the ones found at Kütahya.

Blue and white tiles are less frequently found in Bursa than the other types-monochrome, coloured glaze and enamelled tile mosaic. The examples found have been used as a border for compositions made from the other types. Blue and white tiles have been used on the sarcophagi of Sitti Hatun in the Green Tomb (1421), in the tombs of the Crown Prince Mustafa (otherwise known as the Crown Prince Cem) (1474), of the Crown Prince Ahmet (1429) and the Crown Prince Mahmut (1506). In the tomb of the Crown Prince Cem, two blue and white tiles have been inserted among the gilded hexagonal tile, which has created an extremely interesting composition.

In the first half of the 16th century, enamelled tiles featuring colours such as pistachio green and mauve as well as plates and bowls in blue and white, referred to, in older publications, as “Damascus ceramics” (many examples of which have been found) were produced. These tiles, which were more realistic than the blue and white ones and adorned with flower designs in the classical Ottoman style were used in various buildings in Damascus in the second half of the 16th century, which is why they are referred to as “Damascus tiles”. The mauve, pistachio green and blue wall tiles widely used in Damascus were not popular in the Early Ottoman architecture.

This type of tiles seen in Bursa's Yeni Kaplıca (the new spa) (otherwise known as Eski Kaplıca, or “The Old Spa”), which was repaired on the orders of Rüstem Pasha, Grand Vizir of Süleyman the Magnificent are exceptional examples. The discovery of a large amount of ceramic of this type in the course of excavations at İznik proves that their production center was İznik. The enamelled tiles in the Kaplıca (spa) in Bursa were definitely made in İznik. Tiles of this kind made in Damascus differ from the ones made at İznik in terms of the clay used, design and quality. The former are, in all probability, the work of master craftsmen who had migrated from Anatolia. It could be said that they are a more colourful version of the blue and white tiles encountered in the Spa at Bursa. These tiles, with their hard, white ceramic clay and high-quality transparent glaze are of the same excellent quality as the blue and white tiles.

Red Underglaze Tiles (Plates 13 and 14)

In the period of the Ottoman tile art, stretching from the mid 16th century to the end of the 17th century the most commonly encountered and famous ones are the İznik tiles, where bright red is used. However it can be observed that tiles of this type were not in much demand in Bursa, and were only used in the tomb of Crown Prince Mustafa, son of Süleyman the Magnificent (1552). This tomb, commissioned by Yavuz Sultan Selim (Selim the Grim), belongs to the Muradiye complex of tombs, is known as the Mustafa-i Cedid Tomb.

Seven colours may be used for the red underglaze tiles, which adorn the most impressive works of the classical Ottoman architecture. The determining feature of these slightly convex tiles is the bold use of tomato red. In the tiles of the tomb of the Crown Prince Mustafa, colours such as light blue, ultramarine, turquoise and green have been used. Their main production center was in İznik. Similar tiles were also made in Kütahya when the need arosed. In the İznik excavations, carried out under the chairmanship of Prof. Dr. Oktay Aslanapa, Prof. Dr. Ara Altun and Prof. Dr. Şerare Yetkin, the enamelled tile and ceramic fragments cast much light on the history of our tile kilns and the making of enamelled wall tiles in our country. The fact that decrees, commissioning tiles from the tile works in İznik, were issued by the Royal Household emphasises the importance of the former. The various designs created in the art studios of the palace dictated the style of the Ottoman palace and thus the design character of enamelled wall tiles and ceramics.

In panels of wall tiles adorning works of architecture, realistic intertwined flower designs and thick bands of calligraphy in the sülüs style running around their borders were used with great skill and richness. Flowers such as the tulip, carnation, hyacinth, rose, rosebud, violet, pomegranate flower and peony together with garlands of leaves, medallions adorned with flowers and bouquets, vases, apple and cypress trees, grapevines, lanterns, running leaf patterns of the vignette and rinceau type, large bands of sülüs calligraphy and marbled effects were all featured in İznik tile designs, rendering the building in which they were used as a veritable Garden of Eden.

The Chinese-inspired three cannon, peony and cloud motifs, perpetuate the Far Eastern influence seen in the blue and white tiles in this group of tiles as well. The verses from the Koran in the borders and in inscriptions, written in large sülüs calligraphy, were usually in white on an ultramarine background. Sometimes the insides of the letters were coloured in red and blue.

Although it is known that ceramics of this type were produced in Kütahya, which assisted İznik in blue and white tile production, we have no reliable information on this subject acquired from systematic excavation. Pieces of ceramic with inscriptions on them and the decrees of the sultans cast light on the subject. However the quality of the red İznik and Kütahya tiles began to decline rapidly from the second half of the 17th century onwards. Tomato red faded into brown and the other colours became faded and tended to run.The background had a dirty, spotted appearance and the quality of the glaze also declined. Enamelled wall tiles were used mainly in mosques, mesjids, madrasas, public baths (hamams), tombs and mausoleums, palaces, pavilions, private houses and fountains in the Ottoman architecture and they are an example of the use of multichrome underglaze technique.

In the enamelled tiles adorning the tomb of the Crown Prince Mustafa in Bursa, as far as the tops of the windows, motifs consisting of peonies enriched with spring flower ornamentation, pomegranate flowers, tulips, carnations and hyacinths combine to make an intertwined composition. A white background has been used in the inside panels and an ultramarine background in the borders, resulting in a most impressive composition. The band of sülüs calligraphy running around the walls of the tomb above the tile panels is in white on an ultramarine background and is one of the most exquisite examples of the period.

The enamelled wall tiles of Bursa’s buildings, which we have attempted to describe in terms of the technique employed, their designs and colours, are not present in a large number of buildings belonging to the rich architecture of the Ottoman period. However it can safely be said that the finest quality and most exquisite examples have been used to adorn the historic buildings of Bursa. Although the research carried out to date has yielded no proof of the existence of tile workshops in Bursa, it can still be said that the tiles adorning the historic buildings of Bursa occupy a very special place in the early Ottoman architecture.