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Simon Ray
Indian & Islamic Works of Art

Turkey (Iznik), circa 1570-1580
Diameter: 29.5 cm

A magnificent polychrome dish with a sloping rim and deep cavetto standing on a wide recessed foot, the crisp white interior finely underglaze-painted in vivid colours with an elegant and stylised floral design. To the centre is a large curving bi-coloured saz leaf, richly painted in sealing wax red or Armenian bole and cobalt blue. The saz leaf is composed of small, overlapping, softly serrated blue saz leaves, with feathery forms that contrast with the bold red vein from which they sprout. Large sprays of roses flattened in three-quarter profile with serrated leaves and just opening buds jostle for position with blue tulips as they spread upwards from central tuft of leaves to the lower margin of the cavetto. The rose to the right dangles from a long broken stem, a motif that was seen in Iznik pottery designs from the 1540s onwards.(1) The slight inclination of the stem from the vertical and the contrast of the broken stem with its sharp angled break preserved the spontaneity and liveliness of repetitive floral designs.(2) The decoration of spotted tulips with blue petals and red dots is very rare.(3)

A wide rim of stylised “breaking wave” motifs frames the central design. The finely detailed and richly coloured floral emblems are highlighted to splendid effect against the fresh white ground, seen also on the underside of the dish, decorated with a band of alternating paired tulips and flower-heads in blue and green.

The influence of early Chinese blue-and-white porcelain on this piece is clearly evident. The central design of floral sprays emerging from the cavetto can be traced back to the early Ming dynasty where similar sprays were depicted emerging from a single ribbon-tied bunch on the cavetto’s lower margin. The earlier Yuan dynasty used a “breaking wave” motif to the rim, seen here in a more stylised and expressive form.(4) To the Ottoman potter any mythological associations this motif may have had for the Chinese were unknown, but once attracted by its graphic power it continued to be used well into the seventeenth century.(5) By the 1570s the wave border, increasingly removed from its Chinese model, had become a standard feature of Iznik dishes. In its final metamorphosis it became so stylised as to be unrecognisable, to the point of being described as “ammonite scrolls”.(6) The very first Iznik examples however, imitate the Yuan waves closely, their rollers painted with feathery parallel lines. These gradual changes in this border motif allow us to accurately date the motifs on Iznik plates. The use of simple floral decoration on the underside of the cavetto also echoes Ming dynasty porcelain.

J. C. Thomson, Esq.

1. Maria Queiroz Ribeiro, Louças Iznik: Iznik Pottery, 1996, p. 169.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid. Ribeiro illustrates a dish in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon with similar spotted tulips.
4. John Carswell, Iznik Pottery, 1998, p. 82.
5. Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, 1989, p. 121
6. Ibid.

all text & images Simon Ray

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