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Art of the Islamic world 640 to now

Sinan, Rüstem Pasha Mosque

Mimar Sinan, Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul, 1561-63. Speakers: Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano playing) Narrator: So, we're standing inside of the Rustem Pasha Mosque here in Istanbul and it's really different than so many of the mosques that we've looked at because the inside is covered with beautiful ceramic tile, which is also on the exterior of the building. Female: It's kind of extraordinary because it's also built by Sinan the great Ottoman architect, but it has a totally different aesthetic and interior feel because there are tiles covering most of the lower part of the mosque, as well as the squinches that the dome is resting on. Narrator: Now it's called the Rustem Pasha Mosque after it's patron, Rustem Pasha, so we could wonder whether it was Rustem Pasha who asked Sinan to cover the interior and much of the exterior with tile or whether it was Sinan himself who wanted to do that. Female: There are a lot of things that we don't fully understand about this mosque. So, there is speculation whether it was built by Rustem Pasha or by his wife who was one of Suleyman the Magnificent's daughters. Narrator: We should say that Suleyman is the Sultan at this point, of the Ottoman Empire and Rustem Pasha is basically his prime minister, his grand vizier. Female: Exactly and Rustem Pasha was not a popular character. First of all, he had been in janissary, he was born in Bosnia, seemed to have been Croatian, moved up in the ranks, but he was a very good person for Suleyman the Magnificent to have because he created a very effective tax policy, which meant that the empire was solvent, but generally if you're good at taxing people, people don't like you. He also seems to have been involved in political intrigue and was exiled for a couple of years. Narrator: So, he was not only a very successful politician, but also amassed a considerable amount of wealth and commissioned this mosque along with an endowment to continue it's existence and the way that that happens is by the shops that are underneath. Female: It's really an interesting mosque. You have a totally different way of coming in here. Normally, there's the court in front of many of the other imperial mosques, but instead, in this one, you walk up a winding staircase and come out to the double portico, which is very atypical. So, it's a totally different effect and feeling we're getting here, as opposed to the mosques that Sinan had built for Suleyman and for his wives and other family members. Narrator: So, the shops below helped to support the existence of the mosque. Female: Almost all mosques had some type of endowment and a lot of the imperial cases, the mosques might have been funded by taxes, so having enough money to make sure your mosque was maintained was a really important consideration. Narrator: So, let's talk about the plan because in some ways it looks very familiar and in some ways it looks very unfamiliar. I mean, we have, essentially planned space. An octagon and we can think of lots of buildings including Byzantine buildings that are based on the octagon. Female: Yeah, like Serguei's and Bacca's, for example. Narrator: Right here in Istanbul on top of that octagon a lovely dome with a ringlet of light that might remind us of Hadia Sophia here in Istanbul. Female: We could say that the architect is using squinches to move from the octagon shape of the space to the circular form of the dome itself. Narrator: And squinches are really important in Islam architecture because they are used to transition from octagonal bases, up to domes. It's that quintessential feature and a lot of times in the squinches you have mukarnas and these stalactite types of designs that help create an interesting zone of transition. Female: Which we see here in actually many places. This space feels very lateral to me. There's a lot of room for prayer facing the mirab, facing the direction of Mecca. Narrator: When you look at the plan it looks a lot like a lot of the other plans that we've seen. It looks kind of square, maybe slightly rectangular, but when you're looking up at the dome you start to realize that, in fact, the semi-domes are not where they are in a lot of other places. They're not on the cardinal points, they're in the corners. Female: And so you don't get a sense of an extension of the space longitudinally as much as you do width wise. Narrator: Exactly, so it ends up having, again, a very different type of feel. Female: So, let's talk about the tiles. Narrator: These tiles are really special. They're from a place that is probably most strongly associated with tiles in Turkey and the Ottoman Empire and that's Iznik. It's not actually very far from Istanbul. It's about 50 miles southeast of here and it was on a major trade route, so it was always of important center for ceramic production, but something seems to have happened in around 1480-1490. Female: It seems like that must have to do with the patronage of the Ottoman court. Narrator: Yeah, there seems to be a lot of evidence that they're starting to want more ceramics and there was a huge ceramic tradition in Iran and central Asia and we know that when the early Ottoman's were expanding and, for example, Selim I, Suleyman's father, won a big battle at Tabriz as one of the things he brought back with him were master craftsman that he needed to help build his empire and build the physical manifestations of it. Female: So, we think about this as a cultural Renaissance across all of the arts. Here we are looking at the tiles, but the patterns that we see here appear in manuscript illumination. Narrator: And the metal ware. There's a lot of conversation in between different media. Female: When we look around the space what we notice primarily is this cobalt blue, which might remind us of Chinese porcelain. Narrator: And well it should because it seems that a lot of the original colors and ideas, when Iznik ware was starting to take off, seemed to be influenced by Chinese ceramics. Female: So we have blues and when we look around we see a turquoise and also reds and oranges. Narrator: That's interesting because the changing of colors and the addition colors helps us to understand when something was made. Turquoises and cobalt blues seem to be the dominant colors up until about 1525 and then things start to get interesting and a little bit more innovative. They developed techniques of creating manganese purple, different types of greens and so these colors enter the repertoire, but around 1550, we start to get red. Red is very difficult to produce technically, so when red is mastered, it is incorporated everywhere and it also provides this wonderful visual contrast between the blues and the whites. Female: Primarily we see floral patterns. Narrator: And here it's like flowers gone crazy, but there are certain very distinctive flowers. Probably the most defining one is the tulip. Female: Right. I see that pretty much everywhere. Narrator: Well, and the tulip becomes one of the predominate motifs. There's even a later period in Ottoman art called the tulip period. Tulips were introduced to Europe from the Ottoman Empire. Female: But nothing looks really like a tulip. These flowers are so highly stylized that sometimes it's impossible to recognize the original, natural form that it was based on and something that art historians refer to a lot too is ashaz style. Narrator: It's one of those things again, that's quintessentially Ottoman. It's the serrated leaf. Now, what's so interesting about it is it's not really from here. It's coming from China. Female: It's the serrated leaves that move in and out and form these lovely arabesques. Narrator: You can see where the Ottoman designers have taken something that's foreign, reinterpreted it to create an arabesque, which is one of these quintessential Islamic designs. Female: And there's an artist who seems to have been the originator of this style. Narrator: Shahkulu, and he was taken again from Tabriz and he seemed to have been the head of the court workshop for about 30 years under Suleyman and it seems that many of his designs he may have sketched them out and then sent them to Iznik where potters, had to then execute them, but because you have this well organized administration and bureaucracy to do these things and maybe it's not so different from somebody designing a product in California and then sending it to China to be made. Female: Because of the beauty of the tiles, my eye moves around the space laterally and not up. Normally in domed spaces, whether they're Byzantine or Ottoman, I often leave with an aching neck, but here my eye just spans the walls. Narrator: I think so too. You're almost more focused on what's at eye level, which in some ways is important, you know? You would focus on looking at the mirab, which again, has these very ornate tour de force designs that aren't replicated anywhere else. By making one major change, which is adding these tiles, it's a totally different effect, which makes this a truly unique mosque. Female: Let's go outside. We're here in the portico of Rustem Pasha Mosque and we're noticing an unusual tile on the facade. Narrator: Well, the tile was certainly put in later, but it's very interesting because it shows the Kaaba in Mecca in the center with all these buildings around it, but it reminds us that the Kaaba was very often represented in ceramics, but also we know of it being in manuscripts, as well. Female: And this tile is located on the wall that is the direction of Mecca. Narrator: It's a very good reminder of, again, orientation is the most important thing in terms of prayer. To look at the tile you actually visually have to go around the Kaaba, which is if you went on pilgrimage, what you would do. Female: The tile work on the outside of Rustem Pasha is just as amazing as the tiles inside. Narrator: And what's so interesting about this part right here aside from seeing the greens and the purples and the reds is we also see certain motifs that, again, reflect Chinese influence and those are the cloud scrolls. And they look like this massive thin clouds kind of running into each other and that's something that we can see in manuscripts of the same period, clearly reflecting the influence of a Chinese design. We find it on other ceramics. For example, we find them often in the dishes and bowls. Female: Let's go look at the shops that are beneath the mosque. Narrator: Yes, because that was the other thing that was fun, that everything was paid for by the workers downstairs. (music)