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Rhapsody in Blue

The tiles of the Murad II Mosque in Edirne

John Carswell reveals the fascinating story of the tiles of the Murad II Mosque in Edirne, and the clues they provide to a collection of prized Chinese porcelain assembled by the Ottoman sultans two decades before they captured Istanbul

I have long been intrigued by this 15th-century building and its decoration, for it represents a landmark in the history of Ottoman architecture, yet it still does not entirely explain itself. Briefly, it is apparent that the Persian tile-makers from Tabriz who worked on the Yeşil Cami and Yeşil Türbe in Bursa in the 1420s moved on to Edirne: the same cuerda seca, or enamelled, tiles can be seen in all three structures. The novelty was the introduction of a new technique: painting the design under the glaze. And it is in the mihrab tiles at Edirne that one can specifically trace the transition from those older, more traditional methods to underglaze, which was to become the corner stone of the Ottoman ceramic industry when it developed half a century later.

A further distinction can be observed in the designs of the individual tiles, for they clearly show the influence of 14th- and early-15th-century Chines blue and white porcelain. Here it should be pointed out that blue and white itself only appeared in China during the second decade of the 14th century. The tiles at Edirne show that the potters were conversant with the designs on both Yuan and early Ming porcelain. To have been influenced in such a manner, they must have been exposed to the originals. This in turn argues for a royal collection of porcelain at Edirne well before the court moved to Istanbul 20 years later.

The Murad II Mosque was tragically vandalised a few years after this article was published. The photographs commissioned by John Carswell are therefore a unique record. The mosque has not been reopened since.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 19

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Issue 19, 1999 Forgotten Riches
£12.00 / $15.27 / €14.08
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 19
  • The Whittalls in Winter

    Yolande Whittall looks back at 1930s life in Moda, across the strait from the domes and minarets of Istanbul. In Grandmother Whittall’s garden, where the snow fell deep and crisp, tobogganing parties were laid on for the children. In the kitchen Christmas puddings were stirred, and shooting parties provided the wherewithall for woodcock pie…

  • Eastern Overtures

    War and Peace: Ottoman Relations in the 15th to 19th centuries’, an exhibition at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul, 1999 For 500 years the Polish elite was obsessed with all things Ottoman. Yet a brilliant exhibition celebrating this passion went sadly unnoticed. Philip Mansel reports.

  • James Mellaart: Under the Volcano

    Nine thousand years ago, the plain of Konya was a hive of activity. Before the Mesopotamians, Minoans or Egyptians, the people of Çatalhüyük created one of the first cities known to man. James Mellaart, who unearthed the city and its stunning wall paintings, recalls the stages of a momentous discovery

  • Safranbolu: A Bourgeois Paradise

    A 20-page celebration of Safranbolu, the perfect small town. The lovingly maintained Mümtazlar Konağı is just one of the many handsome old houses that distinguish the Anatolian market town of Safranbolu. With iron deposits, lush forests and fields growing the valuable saffron croci that gave the town its name, Safranbolu prospered quietly for 1,500 years.

  • Bringing Back Babylon

    This modest plant grows easily, cooks easily and digests easily. It is also an excellent health giver. The 10th century physician Ibn-Sina (Avicenna) recommends leeks against colds, coughs and unclean air.
    More cookery features

  • The Fatal Flaw

    Norman Stone introduces a special report by rescuers and writers on the August earthquake and its aftermath

Buy the issue
Issue 19, 1999 Forgotten Riches
£12.00 / $15.27 / 491.74 TL
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