The Ottoman Empire is appreciated today for the highly patterned and brightly hued textiles and ceramics produced during its rule – which, as well as having high aesthetic appeal, also demonstrate incredibly fine craftsmanship. Pieces from towards the end of the era can be bought for a few hundred pounds but, for a high-quality item that has survived from the Empire’s golden age, prices can – and do – reach six figures.
The scope of the Empire – through time and geographically – is vast. Established in the 13th century in Anatolia, with the overthrowing of the Byzantine Empire, it was in power for the following 700 years. Its golden age, in which a range of highly decorative arts proliferated, occurred during the 16th and 17th centuries. During this time, it encompassed a huge region – from the Mediterranean Sea across to China.
The Persian Impact
While the heart of the empire was Turkey, the culture had a Persian flavour. Arabic was spoken and used to produce fine calligraphic works of art. Decorative pieces from the Ottoman Empire are characterised by floral and geometric motifs and a bold arrangement of patterns, which can be seen on carpets, ceramics, tiles, silverware, illuminated manuscripts and even daggers.
Antiques from the early periods of the empire rarely come onto the market, with the earliest pieces tending to date from the 17th and, occasionally, 16th centuries. The renowned glazed and painted earthenware pottery, Iznik ware, was produced between the 15th and 17th centuries and characterised by the use of stylised floral motifs of tulips, carnations, roses and hyacinths in bright blues, greens and – in the later period of production – painted in red pigment made from Armenian bole (earthy clay). Iznik vessels and tiles in good condition can usually sell for £3,000-£10,000.
Carpetweaving was an important industry during the Ottoman Empire, especially the production of woollen flatweave kilim rugs and plush knotted-pile carpets. The textiles were decorated primarily with symmetrical geometrical patterns but also featured motifs, such as vases, animals, Turkish floral patterns and medallion designs. Ottoman rugs in good condition can generate high prices. During Islamic art season in London this April, large 16th-century Ushak medallion-design carpets fetched over £100,000 at auction.
Where To See
The Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul features the finest collection of Ottoman antiques or, closer to home, there’s The British Museum. If you’re looking to buy, keep your eyes peeled for the biannual Islamic art seasons at Bonhams, Christie’s and Sotheby’s (usually in April and October).