Topkapı Palace tiles

Circumcision Room at the Topkapı Palace Museum (Istanbul, Turkey); speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Harris: [0:04] We’re at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, in front of a room built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century.

Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay: [0:13] This room here is in an isolated part of the palace. The palace was not only the residence of the sultan, his family, his harem, but also the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. Its position is beautiful, but what also makes it important for us is the fantastic tile work that we see both on the interior and on the exterior.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:31] We’ve come to know these tiles by seeing them in mosques around Istanbul, and we know these as Iznik tileware, and that name comes from the city of Iznik, which was a center for creating tiles.

Dr. Macaulay: [0:43] What we’re looking at here is one of five tiles, four of which are absolutely identical. It is a large panel. It’s over a meter tall, which means it’s over about 40 inches tall. It’s big, and it’s a single tile, which is rather exceptional.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:55] I see motifs that remind me of Chinese vase painting, like the cloud scrolls in the spandrels.

Dr. Macaulay: [1:02] That’s not surprising that it should take us to China and Central Asia. Scholars have called this style the international Timurid style. Timurid refers to Timur, who was the great Timurid leader. One thing that did happen under his reign was a tremendous flourishing of the arts, which we can see the Ottomans engaging with here.

Dr. Beth Harris: [1:20] For example, the serrated leaf patterns that we see here that art historians call the Saz style.

Dr. Macaulay: [1:25] It’s called the Saz style or the Hatayi style, which means from China, which really comes later on as it’s developed under the Ottomans to be a quintessential Ottoman design that we will also see in textile design, in calligraphy, and in manuscripts.

Dr. Beth Harris: [1:39] Here, we’re seeing the beginnings of a tradition that the Ottomans are going to make their own.

Dr. Macaulay: [1:43] The other thing that we see are these flowers, which to me look very much like peonies.

Dr. Beth Harris: [1:48] And we see birds here, and those look like dragons.

Dr. Macaulay: [1:51] They do have a dragon-like quality. They also seem to have these almost flames coming off of their head, and again something that we have seen in a lot of Chinese manuscripts and Chinese art. Through the filter of Central Asia, some of these motifs are moving towards the Ottoman world.

[2:05] The other thing we can see here and something that we have to note as well is the colors. In a sense, it’s somewhat monochromatic in that we have white and we have variants of blues and turquoises. We don’t have greens yet. We’re also missing red, one of the other quintessential colors.

Dr. Beth Harris: [2:19] Inside and also around this are tiles with many more colors that come from a later date, so we know we’re at an early moment. We can really imagine this enormous flowering of patronage of Suleiman the Magnificent in the mid-16th century.

[2:33] [music]

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Cite this page as: Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay and Dr. Beth Harris, "Topkapı Palace tiles," in Smarthistory, June 3, 2022, accessed July 23, 2024,