Contemporary Turkish artisan who created classically referenced Iznik masterpieces

After centuries of laying dormant, with much of the technical knowledge lost in oral traditions that died alongside their masters, the art of Iznik ceramics is beginning to revive and reassert itself. But this is an endeavour that requires more than simple replication. Artists like Faik Kırımlı, whose experiments with production methods in the 1960s and 1970s brought him close to recreating the likeness of tiles from the sixteenth century and is due credit for encouraging this revival.

Adnan Ergüler, a renowned tile artist better known as Adnan Hoca, made serious strides in invigorating the art form as well. Though the master potter passed away in 2016, Tahir Eğinci of Iznik Classics, has dedicated substantial space to his legacy at his gallery in Sultanahmet. Home to a plethora of the artist’s work, the collection includes many broad and regal ceramic plates featuring designs inspired by patterns from antique atelieres. “He was a hero to so many artists who work with Iznik tiles today” Eğinci fondly remarks. Thankfully, the sons of Adnan Hoca now continue his great work.

Adnan Ergüler '40 Years Glazed With Fire' June 2019
Exhibition at Istanbul Technical University Rectorate Art Gallery (ITU RSG)

The exhibition included Adnan Ergüler's outstanding works from a private collection. The ceramics of this highly regarded artist, whose works were signed as Adnan Hoca, reach the technical and aesthetics of the 16th century Iznik pottery, with his own research and experiments on form, pattern composition and production techniques.They included Ottoman Iznik tiles such as Damascus, classical and estuary. Besides the wall panels, there were large mosque oil lamps, pedestal bowls, tear vases and cubes called Evani.

Hülya Bilgi, director of the Sadberk Hanım Museum, is among those delighted to see artists breathing original life into the art form. She is also adamant that this work must be as authentic and genuine as possible. “It doesn’t mean anything to just copy the Iznik styles of the past. There must be new interpretations reflecting the conditions and events of our lives today.”

The opening ceremony of the exhibition was attended by many guests, including Prof. Rector. Dr. Mehmet Karaca, academicians, students and collector Tahir Eğinci. Speaking at the opening Rector. Dr. Mehmet Karaca said: "We are meeting with a new exhibition at the Rectorate Art Gallery. We have been planning this exhibition for a long time. We are pleased to introduce a special collection of İznik tiles, which have an important place in Turkish arts, with the best examples of our day to the ITU residents before Ramadan. I would like to take this opportunity to remember our deceased artist Adnan Ergüler."

Collector Tahir Eğinci stated that they have been trying to help these products to live and be made for about 20 years: "We have a collection of nearly one thousand works of our deceased artist. Of course, not all of Adnan Ergüler's works came out of the oven perfect. I kept taking them, even if they were small inperfections, or occasionally sometimes big problems! Because I know all the difficulties of this art, it was possible to survive with the support of those who are devoted to this work. I am honoured that the collection, which I have put together for years, will be exhibited at ITU RSG. ”


A Brief History of Iznik Pottery

From the late sixteenth century onward, tensions between Iznik potteries and the imperial court began to surface. Tile makers were directing increasing energy toward completing orders from wealthy private individuals who often hailed from Europe. Ottoman officials responded by issuing edicts in 1598 and 1613 that banned potters from accepting other work before orders for the empire were finalised.

Tile makers were reluctant to comply, however. At a time when, due to the economic troubles of the empire, inflation was wreaking havoc on food prices and other goods, Ottoman officials refused to adjust the price of tiles accordingly, thus presenting the tilemakers with an unenviable choice: follow court orders at great financial risk, or ignore them to make ends meet. Letters sent from the imperial court explicitly warning chief tilemakers against choosing the latter highlight the depth of these disagreements.

Such strife with the court, combined with natural disasters, widespread illness, and the overall financial state of the empire, led to a decrease in quality output from Iznik by the early seventeenth century. Innovation in design was just as potent, but technical standards had dropped sharply. The famous coral red that leaps out at the eye from so much pottery made during the latter half of the sixteenth century turned to a dull brown, faults and imperfections in glaze work began to appear, and colours bled into one another, as can be seen in tiles that decorate the walls of the Çinili Mosque in Üsküdar and the Yeni Mosque in Eminönü. By the end of the seventeenth century, production at the town of Iznik had come to an inglorious end.

Making Iznik Pottery

The process starts by creating the base, called the biscuit; 85 percent of this base is made with locally sourced ground quartz (the rest is clay and silica). Biscuits are dried for seven to 10 days and then covered with a thick underglaze made of quartz and clay. At this point, they are air dried for another 10 days, then baked at 930 degrees in giant kilns.

The next step is the most intricate. The traditional geometric and floral motifs (the latter featuring tulips, roses, and carnations) are drawn on sketching paper, perforated with a needle, and transferred onto the biscuit using charcoal dust. The tiny traces of charcoal are then carefully contoured with a black dye and the designs are painted with natural metal oxide colors. Copper oxide produces a rich cobalt blue, and iron oxide turns into the distinctive, deep Iznik red.

The last step, glazing, is where the magic happens. The painted biscuit is glazed with a thick off-white mixture of quartz, metal oxides, and soda called sır, which translates to “secret” in Turkish: The original masters never wrote down the formula, but rather passed it down orally. This final coating adds a satin finish, draws out depth in the colours, and protects the piece from the elements. It also makes the ceramics virtually indestructible. Finally, the piece is air dried and kilned again for 12 continuous hours. Transformed by fire, the pale colours burst into intense, vivid hues, and the lustrous Iznik çini is born.