This unique dish from the Imperial Ottoman potteries of Iznik heralds the transition between the early Baba Nakkas Style and the more experimental Potters’ Style of the 1520s which saw the introduction of a new colour, copper-based turquoise, and looser, more painterly decoration. The dish has a prestigious provenance, from the celebrated Adda collection, and an impressive exhibition and publication history dating back to the 1950s.
Featuring motifs from two successive stages of early Iznik pottery, this dish is extremely rare as it encompasses the multi-faceted layers of Iznik production, demonstrating its complex evolution. Centred on a design featuring a turquoise ‘Tree of Life’ motif dominated by twisting and overlapping branches within which emerge finely drawn floral sprigs characteristic of the free-hand “Potter’s Style”, the rest of the dish remains indebted to the Baba Nakkas Rumi-Hatayi Style which marked the formative period between 1470 and 1520 (Atasoy and Raby 1989, p.77). Indeed, each decorative component on this dish can be associated with a different phase of this period. For example, the rim of split-palmettes is inspired by the rumi arabesque designs from the earliest Iznik wares of the 1480s, illustrated on other dishes such as a bowl in the Musée du Monde Arabe, Paris, (on loan from the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs), inv. no. 5150 and a charger in the Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, inv. no. OCI 6-36. Whereas in both of these cited examples the rumi designs are used in conjunction with the hatayi floral scrolls, on this dish the lotus blossoms are placed within a central roundel. These lotus-blossoms share a complexity of design that recalls those by the so-called ‘Master of the Lotuses’ which adorn four lamps in Sultan Bayezid II’s tomb, commissioned by his son Selim in about 1512-13 allowing for a precise dating. Furthermore, the s-shaped cloudbands on the cavetto could have been taken directly from those on a dish in the Sadberk Hanim Museum (Bilgi 2009, pp. 54-5, no.7), attributed to circa 1510-15.
The drawing in the centre, representing a kind of ‘Tree of Life’ is absolutely unique; it not only demonstrates the artist’s skill but also his freedom of spirit in the inventiveness of the design. Whereas this dish could also be described as falling into the ‘blue-and-turquoise phase’, Julian Raby rightly notes that this label fails to convey the variety of styles encompassed in this group and nowhere is this more noticeable than when we compare the present dish with two other similar dishes which fall in the same category (Atasoy and Raby 1989, p.115). The first, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (inv. no. C.2019-1910), illustrates a narrative scene, showing a snake sliding up a tree towards an unsuspecting bird. Whilst this charming dish also illustrates the new creativity in design in Iznik wares of this period, it does not reach the complexity and elegance of the present dish. The second, a charger in the Antaki Collection in Aleppo (Atasoy and Raby 1989, pp.167-8, no.171, fig.316), shares the same wild nature of the tree found on the present dish, whilst experimenting with different, seemingly incongruous motifs such as grape-vines, lotus-blossoms and a scale-border borrowing, like the present dish, from already established motifs.
The back of this dish is decorated with a band comprising floral stems which are described by Bernard Rackham as “a wreath of flowers in the spirit of Chinese cloud-scrolls” attesting to the influence of Chinese wares on Iznik potters, particularly as the Topkapi Saray held an important collection of Yuan and early Ming dynasty wares (Rackham 1959, p.26, no.61).
Exceptional in design, the present dish is a superlative example of early Ottoman pottery. It is a truly rare piece whose academic importance is matched by its artistic beauty encompassing the skill and fantasy of early Iznik production.