Richly decorated with a dense design which includes split-palmette arabesques entwined with foliate stems, cintamani motifs against a scale ground, borders with stylised lotus palmettes, entwined details, an inscription and border with reciprocal trefoil motifs, this is a masterpiece of Diyarbakir tilework, in the form of a mihrab.
“The Diyarbakir tile industry, which abandoned simple geometric and arabesque patterns for the luxuriant flora of the Court style is a good example of the way in which aesthetics of a centralised imperial design school transformed the local traditions in the outlying areas of the Ottoman Empire” (Raby 1978, p.456).
As Julian Raby notes in his examination of tile production in Diyarbakir, the tiles are characterised by a frit body slightly softer than that of Iznik, a slightly larger format of tiles (35cm. square in this example), a tightly assembled vigorous design, and some discolouring during the firing process.
Whereas most of the decorative details on this tile panel are well-known Ottoman and Iznik models, it is still unclear whether such tiles would have been produced in Iznik and exported to Diyarbakir, located on the far-Eastern edge of Turkey, or produced locally. Julian Raby tentatively suggests that “[…] itinerant Iznik potters may then have made their way to the provincial capital of Diyarbakir and there either have been assimilated into the already existing local industry or set up their own workshop” although there is no direct evidence of this except in similarity of designs (Raby 1978, p.455).
The external border follows a reciprocal trefoil motif band, a typically Ottoman design used on various media including textiles (see Atasoy, Denny, Mackie, Tazcan 2001, pl. 95). The cintamani set on a scale design is rarely seen and further attests to the horror vacui of the Diyarbakir ceramicists. A dish with a cintamani on a scale ground is in the Calouste Gulbenkian collection, Lisbon, inv. no.815 (illustrated in Ribeiro 1996, p.147, no.31). Scattered around the external inscriptive border are miniature versions of cloud bands derived from Chinese origins, tulips, miniature cintamani-like dots grouped in threes which is quite unusual.
The closest related example is in the Hood Museum of Art, New Hampshire (Blair and Bloom 1991, p.71, no.5). As it is dated 1013 AH/1604-5 AD, this provides a parameter for which to attribute the present tile panel, and also to understand how the design would have continued further down the panel. An inscription indicates the donor’s name as Abdulhalim Efendi, indicating the existence of local patronage, and the abrasions along the lower edges signal that it was probably placed above the trough of a water fountain. Of note, both panels feature tiles whose border sometimes slightly deviate in colour, notably from blue to bright, emerald green. The raised red colour fired brightly on some motifs but came out as a salmon greyish-pink on most of the designs on this tile panel.
The inscription on this panel is taken from the Qur’an, chapter III (Al-‘Imran), part of verse 37, and represents the most frequent inscription found on mihrab tile decoration, indicating this panel’s intended purpose. The quality of the calligraphy is high and three lunette tile panels from the Lala Mustafa Pasa Camii (Erzerum), dated to circa 1562 AD, display the same style in arrangement of the letters which overlap and blend in with the foliate scrolls surrounding them. Whilst this panel conjures up traditional Iznik motifs, it stands out for its creative combination of designs, intense colours and monumentality.
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