The height or classic phase of the imperial style of the Ottoman Empire's long reign can be seen in this Iznik tile of c. 1575. This tile is an example of how high-points in world history can remain represented long after a period's demise by splendid survivors of art, literature and music. It is no accident that when a political power reaches a certain economic stature, it has the means to support, encourage and patronise 'luxury' activities that for the rulers benefit their lifestyle, promote their stature and celebrate their success. Inevitably this synchronicity of power and artistic output share their day in the sun and generally decline into mutual mediocrity and another cycle repeats.
The Powerhouse tile fits stylistically with the height of Iznik production in the last half of the 16th century. It is identical to tiles identified at the Ayub Ansari (Eyüp Sultan) mausoleum complex in Istanbul (Saunders 1987: 11, pl. 3; Lane 1960: Pl. 15B). Arthur Lane maintains that tiles of this style from the baths at the Mosque of Eyub Ensari (Victoria & Albert Museum No. 401-1900) represent (along with tiles from the Mosque of Piale Pasha built in 1573-4) 'the highest quality of tilework ever produced in Turkey' (Lane 1960: 21).
At this time (1550 to 1620) some of the most celebrated monuments were completed under Suleyman II (the Magnificent, 1520-1566) and his immediate successors including the Süleymanye Mosque, sections of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and the mosque of Rüstem Pasha. The crucial link in this period was Sinan (1489-1588), the justly-famous and prolific chief Ottoman architect.
Tile designs were usually commissioned for specific projects and while it is not impossible that the same tiles were used on another building it is exciting to speculate that the Powerhouse tile had been removed during renovations of the Ayub Ansari at some stage in its renovations over the centuries. In the Topkapi Palace for example it is known a number of rooms had been 'improved' during the 18th century by replacing Iznik tiles with the fashionable Dutch Delft. Such are the vagaries of novelty but it is just such activities that have released tiles to the market and institutions. When we remember that constructions such as the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet contained approximately 20,000 tiles, it is easy to imagine opportunities when maintenance and change have released tiles such as this gem now in the Powerhouse Museum collection.
Paul Donnelly, Curator, September 2009
Saunders, Gill, 1987. 'Tile Paintings' Victoria & Albert colour books, Webb and Bower, London
Lane, Arthur 1960. 'A guide to the collection of tiles', Victoria and Albert Museum, London