From the late 1520s Iznik potters began to imitate Chinese porcelains. Those copied were generally of the Yuan and early Ming dynasties of the 14th and 15th century, examples of which found their way in great quantities into the Islamic world. Of all the Chinese prototypes that existed in the Topkapi Palace collections and were copied by the potters at Iznik, it was the grape design that proved the most popular.
Whilst faithful to the aesthetic of their Chinese forerunners, Atasoy and Raby, in a long discussion on the group, write that the potters of Iznik were indifferent to their 'niceties' as is evidenced by their irregular treatment of the design which was allowed more freedom of interpretation than the original (Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, Iznik, The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, London, 1989, pp.121-124).
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this freedom is that the borders of these grape design dishes tend not to be copied from the standard Ming wave border but rather imported from the Yuan type. The Yuan wave border quickly became a favourite of the Ottoman potters, one whimsical analysis identifying it as a 'design composed of the cobs, each enveloped in a leaf, of Indian corn' (W. Lawrence, 'Turkish Potter' in Burlington Fine Arts Club. Catalogue of a collection of old embroideries of the Greek Islands and Turkey, London, 1914, pp. 53-60 quoted in Atasoy and Raby, op.cit, p.121). Later wave and rock borders became heavily stylised but the present dish is one of the earlier examples which imitate the Yuan examples more faithfully with white and serpentine crested breaking waves drawn with soft washes and delicate strokes.
A dish with a very closely related border is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (no. 66.4.10, Esin Atil, The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, Washington, 1987, no.173, pp.250-51). That dish shares other similarities with ours including points of the cusped rim which are not designed to correspond in spacing with the floral sprays of the cavetto, the grapes with dark blue central points, the vine leaves delineated with linear veins and the grape stems which have small suckers springing off the vine - a feature not found on later examples. That dish was dated to the second quarter of the 16th century.
The present dish is in many ways idiosyncratic. Amongst its unusual features is the somewhat free drawing, found most notably in the small leaves which spring from the flowers in the cavetto and which are filled with a loose cross-hatched motif. Although not easily paralleled in other dishes, a similarly sketchily drawn leaf vein is found in a dish, dated circa 1480-1500, which sold in these Rooms, 4 April 2006, lot 101, now in the Detroit Institute of Arts. That dish shared another feature with ours. Both have one central pointil mark on the underside from when the dish was in the kiln rather than the more typical three. Both the sketchy leaves and the single pointil mark are features more typical of the Abraham of Kutahya style of Iznik than the later wares. This strongly suggests therefore that our dish was produced before the grape design became standardized in the repertoire of the potters of Iznik.