We are lucky today to have the pleasure of enjoying Iznik tiles, and for new ones to still be created. Originally produced in the 15th and 16th Centuries in the Ottoman Empire, by the 17th Century the practice of creating these tiles had all but disappeared. Although these magnificent ceramics could still be viewed in vast numbers in Mosques and museums, the replicas for sale on Turkey’s streets were mainly mass-produced, printed tiles that lacked the history and power of true Iznik tiles.
During the golden era, under Ottoman rule, the craftsmen of the town of Iznik switched up ceramic production, utilising quartz in place of clay. This resulted in a bright white biscuit which would then be decorated in the four bold traditional hues of coral, cobalt, turquoise, and malachite. However, the techniques used to produce the original tiles were not written down, the craft went into decline, and the rest was lost to time.
Now things have changed. Thanks to the painstaking effort of the Iznik Foundation, a team of 85 individuals of the Iznik Ceramic Research Center and the İznik Tiles and Ceramic Corp, as well as the efforts enlisted by Istanbul University, Mimar Sinan University and Tübitak; the Turkish Research Institute, the process has been restored to its former glory. Kick-started by economics professor Dr. Işıl Akbaygil, research into the production process was carried out for years with experimentation eventually leading to Chini tile production in 1995.
The process begins with the biscuit, comprising 85% quartz and 15% clay and silica. They are dried for 10 days and then given a thick quartz/clay underglaze before being dried for a further 10 days, after which they are baked at 930°. The tiles are then passed into the hands of the artisans where the designs are drawn on sketching paper, pinholed, and then transferred with charcoal. Each colour is hand-painted onto the tile by a specialist. Each vibrant hue is obtained from natural metal oxides, such as copper oxide to produce the vivid cobalt, and iron oxide for the bright characteristic red.
Once the design is completed the tile is coated in a thick white glaze made with quartz, metal oxides, and soda- the recipe for which was never written down and is known as ‘Sır’ (secret). After the second 12 hour firing process the colours are deeper, and protected from age and exposure.
These pieces are available from Iznik Tiles and Ceramics which have a varied range of pieces, both traditional and modern. The catalogue showcases their use of bold colour and intricate shape, building on greatly researched ceramic traditions.
A new post by Hanna Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, August 2019.