Islamic Art

Rare Iznik Pottery Sold by Sotheby's for First Time in 30 years

By Alexandra Roy
A stunning dish is a rare intact example of 'Golden Horn' Iznik pottery and will feature in the upcoming Arts of the Islamic World sale.

A n incredibly rare intact example of 'Golden Horn' Iznik pottery will be sold by Sotheby's for the first time in over thirty years as part of the upcoming Arts of the Islamic World sale on 1 May in London.

The shallow dish is decorated with the distinct Iznik design of cobalt blue spirals of stems, flower-heads, floral vines and palmettes. It is one of the last examples of this style of pottery remaining in private hands, having been previously offered at Sotheby's in 1986 and housed in a private collection ever since. Other examples of this type of pottery are held by museums including the V&A, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyons and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Items classified as 'Golden Horn' or 'Tuğrakeş’ take their name from the area on the waterways of the southern shores of Istanbul, where a group of sherds (ancient pottery fragments) were discovered in the early twentieth century. In fact, although there was pottery production in this area, these pieces were actually crafted by potters from Iznik and Kutahya. They date from the 16th century and one of the most famous examples is the Godman flask in the British Museum (Atasoy and Raby 1989, p.46), partly due to its inscription which dates it to 1529.

'Golden Horn' ceramics are decorated with series of floral concentric spirals which appear to have been inspired by contemporary manuscript illumination, in particular the type found on the background of the Sultan's tughras, which acted as imperial signatures on official firmans and edicts. Importantly, these tughras were created, issued and controlled solely by the Ottoman Imperial Chancery in the Topkapi Palace, and could only be drawn and illuminated by specially trained court officials. The designs also inspired metalwork; for example, Sotheby's sold an inkwell in 2015 that showed similar patterns in the background of an imperial silver-gilt penbox.

Although this style appears to be short-lived, its influence reached beyond the boundaries of the Ottoman empire: Iznik ceramics were popular in Venice, and continued to influence Italian potters in Liguria in the second half of the 16th century.

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