Brief History of Turkish Ceramics
By Okan Özsoy
Anatolian Turkey has one of the oldest traditions of the manufacture of fired earthenware in the world, stretching back almost ten thousand years towards the end of the last ice age.
Traditional Turkish ceramics, or ‘çini’ as they are known in turkish are appreciated around the world for their strength, colour and design. These qualities persist throughout the evolution of civilization in Turkey, from the Bronze Age, the rise and fall of the Hittites and later domination of mainland Turkey by the Greeks and the Romans, to the Byzantines and finally the Ottoman Turks themselves.
In the 12th Century when Seljukid Turks used tiles to embellish their buildings, the motifs were geometric in character and the dominant colours were blue and turquoise. However, between the15th and the17th Centuries Ottoman Empire period the colours became more vivid, the designs more complex and balanced. In addition to the blue and turquoise there were greens and purples in varying hues and finally coral and tomato reds were discovered.
Ottoman ceramic art reached it’s zenith in Iznik (formerly known as Nicea) encouraged by the patronage of the Ottoman Court. The splendour of Iznik high fired pottery and tile manufacture reached it’s peak in the 16th Century and is unlike anything else produced in either the East or the West with designs more complex and balanced. During those times there were once over 300 ceramic workshops, according to the Ottoman travel writer Evliya Çelebi from Kütahya.
In this period ceramics were used in architecture to fill three dimensional space and also for everyday use as ornamentation of plain surfaces. The things which make Ottoman ceramics invaluable are their strength which challenges centuries, the unfading dynamic colours which are vividly translucent and harmonious, and the unique use of stylized motifs such as the lotus, the tree of life, plant and flower motifs (some of which carry deep and meaningful explanations).
The raw materials used for ceramics are kaolin (60%), which is high in silica content, clay (20%) and calcite. After successive processes, that include ball mining and filter pressing, the compound is ready for the potter’s throwing wheel where it is moulded by hand into vessels such as vases, tankards or jars. The resulting wares are then covered with a thin coating of ‘slip’ to make the body whiter. They are then fired at a temperature of up to 950-980 degrees Celsius to obtain the ‘biscuit’ on which the motives are drawn, painted, glazed and fired once again to achieve the final product.
Vivaldi – Ceramics and Glass
Today this art form is being relived by the world famous ‘Ismail Yigit’ who is systematically working his way through the whole repertoire of Iznik masterpieces in all over the world’s museums, ‘making faithful replicas’ as stated by John Carswell, who is a specialist in Turkish ceramics.
Vivaldi, with the support and trust of ‘Ismail Yigit’ and his workshop ‘Marmara Çini’ are displaying a wide range of traditional Turkish ceramics in their store in the heart of Bodrum. The display in Vivaldi constitutes hundreds of commercial pieces together with a rare collection of 14th, 15th and 16th Century replicas meticulously prepared using the traditional methods by Ismail Yigit.
The strains of Vivaldi and all your other Classical favourites will delight the ear before you see what other treasures are in this shop. Gifts and souvenirs of all shapes and sizes together with a very special collection of glassware which is a true example of traditional handicraft created by the oldest glass making technology ‘fusion glass’, which we are preserving for future generations.
One of the owners of this store, Okan Özsoy with the master potter Ismail Yigit, are preparing to leave for London to participate in Europe's largest arts and crafts exhibition called Art in Action held in Oxford between the dates of July 17-20.
There they will demonstrate the techniques and skills required in preparing traditional Turkish ceramics.