Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 132. A highly rare polychrome Iznik tile with confronted birds, Turkey, circa 1575.

A highly rare polychrome Iznik tile with confronted birds, Turkey, circa 1575

Auction Closed

March 30, 12:47 PM GMT


100,000 - 150,000 GBP

Lot Details


of square form painted in underglaze cobalt blue, green and relief red, outlined in black, decorated with two birds perched either side of a fountain dispensing a hyacinth bouquet, surrounded with arabesques of scrolling saz leaves and flowers

25 by 25cm.

Private collection, England, first half 20th century-2015.
Acquired by the former owner's step-grandfather whilst working as a consultant mining engineer in Turkey.
Rendells, Ashburton, 16 October 2015.

Figural representations on Iznik tiles are rare. Only seven other intact tiles with this iconic design of confronted birds are known, all now housed in museum collections in Europe, Turkey and the United States.

In Ottoman society, birds were ascribed many symbolic meanings. While pigeons were thought to embody the souls of departed people, peacocks were cast as birds of paradise. Given these heavenly associations, the representations of two confronting birds perched on a fountain on a dense foliage background hints strongly at the garden of Eden (Denny 2004, p.186). The birds’ green colour is associated with eternal life in Islam, while the fountain may refer to the salsabil, the spring of Paradise (Clark 2010). This scene is also a popular motif in ancient Turkish iconography, making its first appearance on early Anatolian carpets before it was employed on ceramics (Denny 2004, p.186).

The birds depicted on the present tile, belonging to a well-known series of square tiles dated from the 1570s, were identified by some scholars as falcons, the heralds of royalty and of the royal hunt (Denny 2004, p.186). On the other hand, Atil (1973) suggests these are parrots, painted to decorate private dwellings rather than religious settings. While religious institutions would only commission floral motifs, inscriptions or arabesques to adorn their walls, this piece appeals to our imagination, evoking richly embellished pavilions. This densely decorated tile would have likely been employed alongside more sober ones representing blossoming plants, recreating the serene atmosphere of a garden in a private villa.

Only seven other intact tiles with this design are known:

1. The Louvre Museum, Paris, OA 3919/401, published in Denny 2004, p.186.

2. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, inv. no.C.139/1933, accessible at:

3. The Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., inv. no.F1966.12, published in Atil 1973, p.190-1, no.88; accessible at:

4. The Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, inv. no.25-36; published in Peck 1980, p.69-70, fig.12; accessible at:

5. The Khanenko Museum, Kyiv, inv. no.17BV, published in Miller 1972; accessible at:;EPM;uc;Mus21;40;en

6. The Benaki Museum, Athens, inv. no.GE 75, published in Mouseio Benakē’s exhibition catalogue, 1969, p.28; accessible at:

7. The Sadberk Hanim Museum, Istanbul, inv. no.14979-P.565, published in Bilgi 2004, p.456, no.2956 and in Bilgi 2005, p.84-85, sold in Bonhams London, 2 May 2001, lot 491.