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Gallery Text

The Ottoman dynasty established the largest Islamic empire of the early modern era. At the peak of their powers in the sixteenth century, the Ottomans built numerous large architectural projects, especially in the capital city of Istanbul. Many of the projects were designed by the renowned head architect Sinan. Ceramic tiles were part of his carefully planned interior and exterior decorations. Working with court-supplied designs, potters in the city of Iznik created some of the world’s best-known and most coveted ceramics.

Ottoman tiles of the early sixteenth century, such as the hexagonal examples here, are indebted to earlier Persian tiles in their colors and shapes. In the 1550s, Ottoman potters developed an underglaze emerald green and a bright red that yielded a powerful palette visible at a distance. These colors, along with the newly developed modular square tiles, worked well for decoration that covered great expanses of wall. Larger, single tiles were used to highlight architectural elements such as doors and windows.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Hexagonal Tile with Birds amid Palmette Blossoms and Serrated Leaves
Architectural Elements
Work Type
architectural element
Creation Place: Middle East, Turkey, Iznik
Ottoman period
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands, The Middle East and North Africa
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Fritware with underglaze painting
H: 28.2 x W: 24 x Depth: 2 cm (11 1/8 x 9 7/16 x 13/16 in.)
Elizabeth Ettinghausen (by 2006), promised gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2006.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Promised gift of Elizabeth S. Ettinghausen in memory of Richard Ettinghausen
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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The hexagonal tile contains a central white field filled with floral and animal motifs. The tile is decorated with underlaze painting in cobalt and turquoise slips. The surface of the glaze is somewhat degraded. The decoration extends from two painted ducks sitting at the bottom of the field. Bent-stalked foliage with serrated saz leaves and heavy floral blossoms wrap around the ducks. The borders of the tile contain a floral repeat pattern in dark blue glaze.
Stylistically, this tile falls into the rarest, most beautiful, most inventive, and therefore most coveted phase of Iznik pottery production, approximately datable to 1535-50. Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby (Iznik 1989) call this "The Saz Leaf and Rosette Style" after the essential motifs in the designs. Atasoy and Raby link this phase to the influence of the artist Sahkulu, who headed the atelier of the Ottoman court designers (cemaat-i nakkasan) from 1526 until his death in 1556. Earlier scholars, following the lead of Arthur Lane (Ars Orientalis, 1957), refer to this as the "Damascus Phase" of Iznik pottery. Lane's Damascus Phase is broader than Atasoy and Raby's Saz Leaf and Rosette Style, extending from c. 1525-55, for he focused less on specific motifs than on the distinctive palette of cobalt, turquoise, sage-green, and purple. The most sensitive drawing and the full palette appear on vessels. By contrast, tiles, which are quite rare for this phase/style, are only painted in cobalt and turquoise, and their drawing betrays somewhat the effect of mass production.

Sources for the saz style in Ottoman art can be found in fifteenth-century Persian drawings. Sahkulu (Shah Quli) himself was a Tabrizi.

Identical tiles are found in the collections of the British Museum (OA92 6-13 69) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (1680.1892), gifted to these institutions in 1892 by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826-97), celebrated English antiquary, collector, and a major figure in the history of the British Museum.

The British Museum tile is published in:
J. M. Rogers, Islamic Art and Design,1500-1700, London, 1983, cat. no. 140, p. 119.
J. Raby and N. Atasoy, Iznik, London, 1989, cat. no. 225, p. 134.
V. Porter, Islamic Tiles, London, 1995, cat. no. 93, p. 105.

The V&A tile is published in:
Arthur Lane, "The Ottoman Pottery of Isnik," Ars Orientalis, vol. II (1957), p. 266, fig. 36.

Label text from exhibition “Re-View,” an overview of objects drawn from the collections of Harvard Art Museums, 26 April 2008 – 1 July 2013; label text written by Mary McWilliams, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art:

Hexagonal Tile with Birds amid Palmette Blossoms and Serrated Leaves
Turkey, Iznik, Ottoman dynasty, c. 1540
Fritware with painting under glaze
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Promised gift of Elizabeth S. Ettinghausen in memory of Richard Ettinghausen, 9.2006

The twisting serrated leaves and fantastic blossoms suspended from a rotating stem characterize the so-called saz leaf and rosette style. Introduced into Ottoman art in the late 1520s by Sahkulu, an artist originally from Tabriz in Iran, the saz style’s earliest appearance takes the form of ink drawings on paper. The spiraling, self-contained design of this tile contrasts with the symmetrical and endlessly repeating patterns of the adjacent hexagonal tiles.
Publication History

Jessica Chloros, "An Investigation of Cobalt Pigment on Islamic Ceramics at the Harvard Art Museums" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 2008), Unpublished, pp. 1-41 passim

Exhibition History

Overlapping Realms: Arts of the Islamic World and India, 900-1900, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 12/02/2006 - 03/23/2008

Re-View: Arts of India & the Islamic Lands, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/26/2008 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at