BLUE AND WHITE OTTOMAN CERAMICS OF THE 15TH - 16TH CENTURIES
The general name ceramics applies to works with various appearances and decorations, but having the same clay as basic raw material for production. After thinning the different compounds of clay with water, this paste is shaped by hand or lathe and then baked and hardened in ovens.
The ceramics are two kinds, one being soft and the other hard:
a) Porous, dull, unverified baked clay pottery and,
b) Vitrified, transparent and waterproof pottery (the porcelains).
Some ceramics made of sandy wet clay is hard and waterproof just like porcelain, but their edges are dull and thick since vitrification is not completed. The vitrification of the paste depends upon the compound and the baking degree. The degree has been increased as years have passed by and ceramics have converted from soft paste into hard paste. The first group is the vanguard of the second.
The necessities aroused by different ways of usage since archaic ages, has forced the application of a semi-liquid undercoat on the porous paste. The body of the pot is covered with an earthen undercoat which covers the natural colour of the clay and creates the possibility to apply decoration. This undercoat is further covered with a vitreous glaze.
The glaze may be applied in different colours. In this case, the decorative design is only drawn on the undercoat. Some points in the technical secret of this method have not yet been clearly understood. This method has been used in early Ottoman tile making, but it was no more used when a technic more convenient for polychrome was developed. The undercoat compounds differ depending upon the kind of paste and the baking degree. The coefficients of dilation and shrinkage of the pot paste and the undercoat should be equal, in order to obtain a smooth surface.
After the first experimental periods in ceramic production, the Ottomans developed the underglaze technic which is most convenient for polychromatic decoration. After applying the suitable undercoat to the pastes obtained by mixing clay of plastic quality with powdered marble, and with a compound made by different quantities of various soils and water, the Ottomans drew the designs over this undercoat and coloured them. First baking is done without glazing for the fixation of colour. The pot is then taken out of the oven and glazed with a transparent glaze and then it is baked again. Now you have in hand a product the coloured decoration of which can be preserved under the transparent glaze. This method is called the underglaze technic. The Ottomans developed this technic as to use seven different colours. The glossier the glaze surface, the more transparent it is; the duller the surface, the less transparent it is. The dullness both covers the decoration and it destroyers the definite contours of the colours.
In the placement of the decorative composition of especially the 15th century pottery, we find the geometrical design in friezes. Large and small cartridges, lozenges and plaited motifs are secondary decorative motifs used as geometric elements sometimes used in the focal point of the design and sometimes in the empty spaces. These geometric decorations are the heritage of our previous periods in art. They have not been used in the 16th century works unless there was a technical necessity, and they have been replaced by the abstract plant motifs of the Ottoman style. The short, plump leaves in the Ottoman style characteristic of the 15th century are either connected to each other by twisting lines or they form an alternating decoration with carnations and rosettes as if performing a folk dance hand in hand. All of these motifs are the decorative elements developed by the Seljuks in all kinds of handcraft and handed over to the Ottomans playing an important role in the development of style. The slightly lengthening ends of these abstract plant motifs in rhythmical and symmetrical order give liveliness to the whole, by providing a waving motion in every direction. In the 16th century, the leaves lengthen more forming lotuses, palmettoes and they gain a plastic value with the cloud motifs.
The deep dark blue of the former products turns into a pale, warm blue in later examples. It replaces the white on the same piece as ground colour. White over blue or blue over white decoration is one of the main characteristics of these products.
Various Cafic or Nesih style inscriptions with floral designs are usually used in aesthetic piling coloured white over blue. Sometimes a very small quantity of turquoise is also observed besides these two main colours. Towards the year 1540 when this kind of pottery making was still prevalent, the first examples of tulips, carnations, hyacinths which predicted the motifs of the future, started to appear. Just as the dragon, fish and hare motifs did also appear… The dates such as 1510, 1529 have been seen on some of the examples of these pottery. Even some claimed that these were Kutahya ware, basing their claim on the signature of Master Ibrahim of Kutahya. Even if the pale coloured examples should be Kutahya ware, the true center of production was Isnik. Kutahya was its follower as it has been in later periods. The Iznik ceramics are doubtlessly the unique examples of pottery that has reached this quality throughout the world. These are pieces which have gained the appreciation of the world and have gained a top place in collection.
The first and the most important center of the Ottoman tile and ceramic making was Iznik. The Isnik pottery of the 15th century forms the second phase of production in the same center. Any kind of pottery used either for decorative purpose or for daily usage and oil lamps, candlesticks or pendulous decorations are of this group. Even a broken, defective or completed piece reveals the centuries old aesthetics by its simplicity of colour and richness of decoration. The paste of the Blue-and-Whites is white and hard. It resembles porcelain, but it is not transparent. The glaze is very thin, colourless, transparent and glossy. No cracks are found following baking. The grounds whether they are white or blue, have a hardness which brings forth the design and composition of decoration. Nevertheless, the ground is unified with the general appearance of the design in such a way that the warmth of the colours penetrate the pottery making it charming.
Reference: Antika; The Turkish Journal of Collectable Art, September 1985,
Issue: 6 by Can Kerametli
Some selected examples (please click on pictures to enlarge):