"Sometime towards the end of the 15th-century Ottoman potters started manufacturing blue-and-white ceramics of a technical standard unmatched in the Muslim world since the early thirteenth century pottery of Kashan. The vessels, often of impressive size, had a hard, dense fritware body covered with a brilliant white slip, onto which were painted elaborate arabesques and floral scrolls in a rich cobalt which had depth and texture - the 'heap and piled' effect - of the first Yuan blue-and-white porcelains from China. Over this was a compact, colourless glaze which adhered tightly to the body and showed no flaws of crackle and tendency to pool". Thus Julian Raby introduces the highly innovative wares that began to be made at Iznik at this time (Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, Iznik, the Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, London, 1989, p.77). His summary of the developments that took place at Iznik clearly acknowledges the debt to previous scholars, notably Arthur Lane who in 1957 was the first to put stricter rigour into the chronology of the development of Iznik pottery (Arthur Lane, "Ottoman Pottery of Isnik", Ars Orientalis, vol.II, 1957, pp.247-281). It was Lane who first differentiated between the different early blue and white vessels, establishing a progression in style and execution.
Both authors are in agreement that the vessels of the earliest period were those "painted with tightly drawn arabesques reserved in white on a dense, often brackish, cobalt ground" (Atasoy and Raby, op.cit, p.77). Vessels painted in blue on a white ground are dated to a slightly later period, into the sixteenth century. Four large chargers of similar shape to the present lot are attributed to the earliest period, each of which has arabesques left in reserve against blue. Also to the same period are attributed a jar, a pilgrim bottle, a candlestick, a hanging ornament and two bowls. With the exception of the smaller of the bowls the main ornament on all of these is also reserved on blue (op.cit, pls.55-58, 60, 273-279).
In all other respects the present dish fits perfectly into the earliest period. The rim is narrow, and has the upturned lip found on the Sèvres and Hague dishes (op.cit, pls.55 and 57). It is between the two in size, and also almost identical in size to the Louvre dish (op.cit., pl.56). The rim is similarly narrow to these three; those dated to the sixteenth century almost invariably have wider rims. The underside of the foot is not covered with white slip under the glaze, a feature that is certainly matched in the Cinili Kösk dish (op.cit. pls.58 and 273). The blue is the dark intense blue with the 'heaped and piled' effects. And, probably most important of all, the drawing has great attention to detail, with minute touches of cross-hatching, and shading, while keeping each individual floral form distinct, thus showing the same obsessiveness that is found in the blue-ground vessels. A comparison is also instructive even within the blue on white designs. Those on the reverse of the Hague dish (op.cit, pl.57; Islamische Keramik exhibition catalogue, Düsseldorf, 1973, no.308 for another view) are very close indeed in terms of execution to ours. The drawing on the reverse of a dish dated to circa 1500 or 1510 (Esin Atil, Ceramics from the World of Islam, Washington D.C., 1973, no.79, pp.172-3) shows the latter to be very considerably looser and also with many fewer small leaves springing from the tendrils giving a very different overall appearance.
This dish challenges the generally held conviction that the blue ground arabesque-decorated group is the earliest. With so few vessels from that period remaining, it raises the question as to whether that conviction is just an echo of what has managed to survive. And on that front the present dish is remarkable; at least seven of the nine vessels that date from this period have been broken and repaired; this has not. It certainly demonstrates that vessels decorated in the white ground floral style were created from the very earliest period at Iznik on as grand a scale as the blue ground arabesque examples.