In 1554 Sultan Sulayman ordered the construction of a large mosque and madrasa complex to be built in Damascus. As part of the construction a considerable number of tile-makers appear to have been sent to work on the interior. While their early designs are clearly very closely related to some of those created at Iznik, the colour scheme shows clear differences. To a blue and turquoise colour that are common to both, they add a manganese and an apple-green. Having finished the Sulaymaniye, the potters appear to have settled in Damascus, working on a series of buildings, and producing a small but distinct group of pottery vessels (see lot 99 for a very good example).
Today the most varied of the tiles remaining in Damascus are probably those to be found in the Darwish Pasha mosque, which was founded in 1574 (as given in the inscription above the door). Two of the strongest images of all Damnascus tile panels are provided by the two arched panels found in the portico areas of that mosque, each of which has marbled pillars and alternating coloured marble arch enclosing a white panel. (Gérard Degeorge and Yves Porter, The Art of the Islamic Tile, Paris, 2001, ill.p.214; idem, Ornament and Decoration in Islamic Architecture, London and New York, 2000; http://archnet.org/library/images/thumbnails.tcl?collection_id=&locatio n_id=7463&place_id=&start=37&limit=9 images IMG08002-08008 and ISY0362). In the white panel of each are a mosque lamp, two blue footprints, and the same nasta'liq quatrain. The present niche is very similar indeed to those two. Even a number of finer details of the drawing, such as the very successful capitals at the tops of the pillars are identical, as is the lettering of the shahada. In the colouring, while the green on ours is not as strong as those in Damascus, all three use a very subtle soft shade of manganese which is very effective when used as shading, particularly in the capitals of all three panels.
There are however a number of small but significant differences, which indicate that while this was undoubtedly made at the same time and in the same workshop, it was not for the same commission. The stonework here is slightly simplified; the joggling is not as complicated, and the pillars do not taper as those in the Darwish Pasha mosque. Most notable however is the treatment of the marbling. A close examination of the pillars here shows them to be crammed full of fish, animals and birds. This is rare indeed to find in a mosque, or indeed any religious setting. It shows a great sense of humour on the part of the painter. And it provides a very good link to the small group of Iznik vessels that are likewise covered in similar animals.
For further examples of Ottoman Damascus tiles please see lots 6 and 101A.