This is a Turkish hexagonal tile created in the Iznik style, a method of ceramics that held the interest of the Ottoman Empire from the late 1400’s through the 1800’s. The Iznik tile was used extensively throughout the empire’s architecture in mosques, and palaces as a decorative element often covering entire walls with their beauty.
It was made by my own hand using modern materials due to ease of use and the sometimes toxic nature of the ingredient compositions. The designs painted on the tile are a combination of those found on an extant hexagonal tile c.1530-1540 and a dish c.1580 with my own creative interpretations. I created my tile specifically in the blue-and-white style because I enjoy creating pieces that aren’t commonly seen in the research of extant tiles.
Iznik Ceramic Style
Iznik ceramics get their namesake from the city of their origin. This Turkish city was the center of production for these truly unique ceramics due to the texture and quality of its highly prized creamy white clay that occurred naturally around the hills of Iznik, Turkey. The clay’s very fine texture and bright white color along with unique designs painted on in brilliantly hued under-glazes created ceramics products that were of high quality.
The Hexagonal Iznik Tile
The hexagonal Iznik tile was used mostly for decorative purposes on a variety of different buildings. Blue-and-white architectural tiles are rather rare but do exist (Bakir). The decorative hexagonal tiles were often pieces decorated with identical radial compositions, denoting that they were probably mass-produced (Atil, 257). These tiles were often used to create friezes, decorative horizontal bands along the upper part of a wall in a room. (Atasoy) These friezes were usually comprised of the hexagonal and smaller triangular tile mosaic, or just the hexagonal tiles laid against each other. Either the same tile pattern was used over and over, as seen in Figure 3 of the Topkapi Palace or the frieze had several different designs of tiles repeated throughout it. Turkey
"Iznik" has come to refer to the distinctive pure-white frit-bodied ceramic vessels and tiles that were covered in a brilliant white slip and then decorated, over the course of time, with various combinations of coloured slips beginning with cobalt blue and turquoise, followed by the introduction of a subtle palette of sage green, manganese purple, black, and finally the use of a more vibrant colour scheme in blue, green, black, and "sealing-wax red" (Suleman). I will detail below each material used, both in period and in my own piece. Period
Period and My Material
Period Clay- According to Carswell’s Iznik Pottery in a recent scientific analysis of Iznik pottery it was determined the clay body was a ground quartz composition, with small amounts of white clay and a soda-lead frit. The Iznik potters mined clay from the hillsides, and mixed the quartz and powdered glass (frit) into it to strengthen this natural clay. Modern scientific analysis has concluded that this clay's formulation is approximately 80 percent quartz, 10 percent white clay, and 10 percent glass frit (Atasoy).
My Clay- I used modern white clay (Laguna’s EM210 Cone 06) for ease of use, cost efficiency and to obtain a more refined product. I plan to delve into the chemistry of making my own clay at some point in the near future. However, I wanted to keep this project within a tighter budget than purchasing the raw materials would allow.
Period Slip- Slip is essentially semi-fluid clay, and white slip was often used by the Muslim potters to coat the entire surface of an earthenware vessel in order to create a blank canvas for further decoration (Suleman). The slip was also of quartz-frit type, but with far finer quartz particles and mixed 3-8% of clay with 7-11% of frit (Carswell, 30). The slip was necessary because the period ingredients for the clay were not refined.
My Slip- Due to using modern clay that is highly refined I could have omitted the slip, however I wanted to keep in line with the process that the Iznik potters utilized. I created my slip by mixing clay and water together in a blender until it reached a consistency slightly thicker than coffee creamer.
Period Glaze/Under-Glaze- The under-glazes used for surface decoration in Iznik ceramics were usually composed of metals such as iron, copper or cobalt that were mixed with small amounts of clay and water. As for period glaze, it is of a lead-soda type with a median lead content of 20-40% and a significant amount of tin oxide (4-8%) (Carswell, 30). After the under-glazes were allowed to dry the Iznik nakkas, or paint designers, would then coat the tiles in this transparent glaze to seal the tile.
My Glaze/Under-Glaze- I used Duncan Concepts Dark Delft and Dark Nautical modern under-glazes. These are of very similar formulation and the closest in color I could find to the period under-glazes. I utilized a modern clear glaze to seal the tile.
How this piece was made
1) Wedged clay
a. This is a method of mixing clay to remove air bubbles.
2) Created mold- see appendix for photo of mold
a. I created my mold out of balsa wood cut into 2 ½" x ¼" strips that I tacked together to create a hexagon shape.
3) Molded clay
a. I rolled my clay out flat to ¼" and pressed the mold down into it.
b. I rolled the surface of the mold to ensure flatness
c. I cut away all excess clay
4) Removed from mold and allowed to dry for several days-see appendix for photo of tile at this stage
5) Slip applied and allowed to dry
a. An even coating of slip was applied by dipping the tile into the slip mixture
6) Bisque Firing
a. Definition- first firing without any glaze or underglaze adhered
b. Fired to cone 04 or about 2008 degrees Fahrenheit in a modern kiln
7) Tile sanded
8) Underglaze (colors) applied and allowed to dry
9) Glaze (clear) applied and allowed to dry
10) Glaze (clear) Firing
a. Fired to cone 06 or about 1873 degrees Fahrenheit in a modern kiln
Tests on Iznik ware have concluded that the firing temperature was in the range of 850-900 degrees Celcius. (Carswell, 32) This is anywhere in the range of 1460-1650 degrees Fahrenheit which equates to modern cones (method of determining temperature inside a kiln) 016-010. However, I fired my modern replacement at a higher cone of 04, as its composition requires a higher temperature of about 2008 degrees Fahrenheit.
Atasoy, N. and Raby, J. Iznik. London Alexandria Press 1989
Atil, Esin. The Age of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. Washington: Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, 1987.
Carswell, John. Iznik Pottery. London: British Museum Press, 1998.
Bakir, Dr. Sitare Turan. "The Art of Turkish Tiles & Ceramics." Interactive Museum of Turkey Resource Center. 18 July 2006. http://sanat.bilkent.edu.tr/interactive.m2.org/Handicraft/sitare1.html
Suleman, Fahmida. "Ceramics". The Institute of Ismaili Studies. 2007