On January 3rd the mail brought a fresh batch of consumer lifestyle catalogues to my door. I am fascinated by trending color palettes and the romantic names that sellers give to their merchandise.
Pottery Barn was the first to arrive in the New Year. Thumbing through the catalogue, I was impressed by the evocative names they gave to their home furnishings.
Murano: a series of islands in the Venetian Lagoon
Malta: an island republic in the Mediterranean Sea closely associated with the Knights Templar
Dara: a female/male name used in southeast Asia, meaning "star"; in Hebrew "compassion" or "wisdom"; in Punjabi "leader" and in Persian "wealthy"
Shibori: a Japanese method of dying cloth
Lucca: a city in Tuscany, Italy
Iznik: a town in Turkey; the name of the pottery produced there in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries
Sophia: a Greek female name meaning "wisdom"; in Istanbul Hagia Sophia ("holy wisdom") is a massive church built in the 6th century
Constantinople: one of the historic names for current day Istanbul. Over the ages it has also been called Lygos and Augusta Antonina, but the historic name most associated with the romance of the east is Byzantium
The historic significance of these last three names, Iznik, (Hagia) Sophia, and Constantinople, are bound together in my experience.
One afternoon in 2008, work in our studio was interrupted by a young man selling Iznik (whatever that was). He had his much older father in tow. Both gentleman spoke English with a heavy accent.
As it turned out they were Turkish nationals, the young man a student at NYU and the father was in the U.S. to help him sell Iznik to assist in paying for his education.
They had been trouping from shop to shop and design firm to design firm essentially trying to sell their wares door to door unannounced. Not a good idea for them… until they stumbled into our studio. We were so impressed with their earnestness that we said, "Sure! Show us what you've got." We had no idea what to expect, but those expectations weren't high.
The men disappeared out to their old, white van and unloaded into our conference room a dozen or more of the most magnificent ceramic Iznik plates. We were amazed at the beauty, subtlety and delicateness of these pieces.
The man and his son had introduced us to the world of the high Ottoman art of Iznik ceramics. Iznik potters created the tiles that adorn many of the mosques and palaces of the Ottoman Empire.
We purchased all the pieces they had in their truck and many more over the years. Eventually, we traveled to Istanbul to meet the family and to tour Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace museum and many of Istanbul’s mosques.
The photograph of the blue and white plate that introduces this blog is an example of the contemporary Iznik pottery we purchased from them. This particular plate hangs in my home. It is my understanding that this pattern was originally produced by Iznik potters between 1480 and 1520.
Now back to the Pottery Barn catalogue: You can see why I found "Iznik Vases" with traditional Iznik-style floral patterns fascinating. Just as our Turkish friends introduced Iznik to us, PB was casually introducing the American consumer to Ottoman-esque art. At the very least PB used the term Iznik, so anyone could Google it and find a world of fine art.
Here are some links and references if you'd like to learn more about Iznik:
Iznik, The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey by Nurhan Atasoy & Julian Raby
The Art of the Islamic Tile by Gerard Degeorge and Yves Porter
Iznik, the Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics by Walter B. Denny
As side note to this blog I would like to share an additional aspect of high Ottoman art: Ipek, the silks of the Ottoman court.
As so often happens with ideas, one leads to another. A few years ago the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian had an exhibit of Ottoman silks, which I could not pass up. After seeing this stunning exhibit I had to purchase – and highly recommend – the exhibit catalog:
Ipek - The Cresent and the Rose, Imperial Ottoman Silks and Velvets by Nurham Atasoy, Walter B. Denny, Louise W. Mackie, Hulya Tezcan
May your own mail-order catalog adventures carry you far.