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Islamic Art

An Exceptionally Rare 15th Century Iznik Charger

By Benedict Carter, Head of Auction Sales, Middle East.

S otheby's upcoming sale, Arts of the Islamic World on 24 October will feature an important piece of Iznik pottery, the 'Debbane Charger'. It was created in the earliest group of Iznik ceramics during the 15th century reign of Mehmet II, ‘the Conqueror’. Belonging to a small and exceptionally rare group of Iznik pottery, it is characterised by an intense, inky, blue-black colouring, distinctive of the embryonic state of firing control at this time, around two decades before a brighter cobalt blue could be accomplished. This special piece encapsulates a confluence of influences, both local and foreign, as well as a flair for invention.

Mehmet II was renowned for his patronage of the arts, and is celebrated for inviting foreign artists to his royal court. Exquisite Iznik pieces such as the ‘Debbane Charger’ could only have been created in response to demand from the court itself, since only royalty could finance such an industry. Aside from the Islamic arts of illumination and calligraphy, the decoration of this piece owes a debt to two other distinct influences – Chinese porcelain and Islamic metalwork. It is similar in size to 14th century Yuan porcelain dishes, which were among the popular blue and white wares imported into the Ottoman Empire. The influence of Balkan silver bowls is also evident, as the decoration attempts to create the impression of relief metalwork.

The ‘Debbane Charger’ is related to four other large dishes, all of which are held in museum collections – including Paris’ Musée du Louvre. In their landmark book: Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby suggested that the dishes were used in court banquets. Though not identical, they display a number of shared elements – the huge scale, central floret, and use of both Rumi and Hatayi motifs, the names given to the rigorously executed arabesque decoration and Chinoiserie floral scrolls respectively. Sotheby’s sale catalogue is the first time that this newly discovered member of the group has been published.

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Max Debbane, Alexandria (1893-1965). Fonds Max Debbane ©Archives CEAlex/Cnrs

The charger was formerly in the collection of prolific bibliophile and businessman Max Debbane (1893-1965), who patronised many leading cultural institutions in the town of his birth, Alexandria, as well as serving as President of the Archaeological Society.

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An Iznik blue and white pottery candlestick, Turkey, circa 1480. Sold at Sotheby’s, 29 April 1993, for £617,500.

Opportunities to acquire works of Iznik pottery from this earliest period are indescribably rare, and not since Sotheby’s Islamic sale of 29 April 1993 has such a significant example appeared on the market.

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