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Art of the Islamic world 640 to now

Topkapı Palace tiles

Circumcision Room at the Topkapı Palace Museum (Istanbul, Turkey).

A conversation between Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay.
Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(light music) - [Beth] We're at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, in front of a room built by Suleyman The Magnificent in the 16th century. - [Elizabeth] This room here is in an isolated part of the palace. The palace was not only the residence of the Sultan, his family, his harem, but also the administrative center of the Ottoman empire. Its position is beautiful, but what also makes it important for us is the fantastic tile work that we see both on the interior and on the exterior. - [Beth] We've come to know these tiles by seeing them in mosques around Istanbul. And we know these as Iznik tileware and that name comes from the city of Iznik, which was a center for creating tiles. - [Elizabeth] And what we're looking at here is one of five tiles, four of which are absolutely identical. It is a large panel, it's over a meter tall, which means it's over about 40 inches tall. So it's big. And it's a single tile, which is rather exceptional. - [Beth] And I see motifs that remind me of Chinese vase painting like the cloud scrolls and the spandrels. - [Elizabeth] And that's not surprising that it should take us to China and central Asia. Scholars have called this style the international Timurid style. Timurid refers to Timor who was the great Timurid leader. One thing that did happen under his reign was a tremendous flourishing of the arts, which we can see the Ottomans engaging with here. - [Beth] For example, the serrated leaf patterns that we see here that art historians called Saz style. - [Elizabeth] It's called the Saz style or the Hatayi style, which means from China, which really comes later on as it's developed under the Ottomans to be a quintessential Ottoman design that we will also see in textile design, in calligraphy and in manuscripts. - [Beth] Here, we're seeing the beginnings of a tradition that the Ottomans are gonna make their own. - [Elizabeth] The other thing that we see are these flowers which to me look very much like peonies. - [Beth] And we see birds here and those look like dragons. - [Elizabeth] They do have a dragon-like quality. They also seem to have these almost flames coming off of their heads. And again, something that we have seen in a lot of Chinese manuscripts and Chinese art. Through the filter of central Asia, some of these motifs are moving towards the Ottoman world. The other thing we can see here and something that we have to note as well, is the colors. In a sense it's somewhat monochromatic in that we have whites and we have variants of blues and turquoises, we don't have greens yet. We're also missing red. One of the other quintessential colors. - [Beth] Inside and also around this are tiles with many more colors that come from a later date. So we know we're at an early moment. We can really imagine this enormous flowering of patronage of Suleyman the Magnificent in the mid 16th century. (light music)