You are on page 1of 7

SULTAN AHMED III’S CALLIGRAPHY ON TEKFUR SARAYI TILES

Bora KESKINER

In the 18th century Ottoman tile production was revived through the efforts of Damad Ibrahim Pasha, the grand-vi-
zier and son-in-law of Sultan Ahmed III (r.1703-1730). He established a tile workshop in Istanbul in the so-called Tekfur
Sarayı,1 which used to be part of a group of former Byzantine palaces known collectively as the Blachernae Palaces built
against the land walls overlooking Eyüp.

Craftsmen from Iznik kilns were brought to Istanbul in 1719 to establish the Tekfur Sarayı ateliers, which were active
for ten years,2 starting from 1724 or 1725.3 A trial production, however, probably started around 1720.4 Most of the Tekfur
Sarayı tiles are manufactured in 25 x 25 cm, the dimensions of the former Iznik tiles.5 Their known examples in Istanbul
are found on the Holy Mantle Pavilion in the Topkapı Palace, the public fountain6 of Sultan Ahmed III in front of the
Palace gate, the Ayasofya Library, Yeni Valide Mosque7 in Üsküdar, Ferruh Kethüda Mosque8 in Balat, Hekimoğlu Ali
Pasha Mosque9 in Kocamustafapaşa, Mehmed Ağa Mosque in Çarşamba, Kaptan Paşa Mosque10 in Üsküdar, and Kandilli
Mosque11 in Kandilli. In addition, Cezeri Kasım Pasha Mosque tiles, dated 1725, and the fireplace12 of the Fuad Pasha
Yalısı, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A: 703-891), signed and dated 1731, are outstanding examples of the
Tekfur Sarayı production.

(1) Küçük Çelebizâde ÂSIM, Târih-i Çelebizâde Efendi, Istanbul, Müteferrika Matbaası, 1740, p. 63. For the complete text of the decree regarding the
foundation of the Tekfur Sarayı kilns see Ahmet Refik ALTINAY, Onikinci Asr-ı Hicri’de Istanbul Hayatı (1689-1785), Istanbul, Enderun Kitabevi,
1988, p. 65.
(2) İsmail Hakkı UZUNÇARŞILI, Osmanlı Tarihi. Karlofça Antlaşması’ndan XVIII. Yüzyılın Sonlarına Kadar, Ankara, Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi,
1956, IV, p. 157.
(3) For a comprehensive survey on Tekfur Sarayı production see Filiz YENİŞEHİRLİOĞLU, “Tekfur Sarayı Çinileri ve Eyüp Çömlekçiliği”, Anadolu’da
Türk Devri Çini ve Seramik Sanatı, Ankara, T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 2007, p. 349-365.
(4) Belgin DEMİRSAR-ARLI & Ara ALTUN, Tiles – Treasures of Anatolian Soil – Ottoman Period, Istanbul, Kale Group Cultural Publications, 2008, p.
39. Filiz YENİŞEHİRLİOĞLU, “Istanbul -Tekfur Sarayı- Osmanlı Dönemi Çini Fırınları ve Eyüp Çömlekçiler Mahallesi Yüzey Araştırmaları”, XII.
Araştırma Sonuçları Toplantısı 30 Mayıs-3Haziran 1994, Ankara, 1995, p. 535-566.
(5) Belgin DEMİRSAR-ARLI & Ara ALTUN, op. cit. [n. 4], p. 40. F. YENİŞEHİRLİOĞLU, loc. cit. [n. 3], p. 354.
(6) F. YENİŞEHİRLİOĞLU, loc. cit. [n. 3], p. 350.
(7) B. DEMİRSAR-ARLI & A. ALTUN, op. cit. [n. 4], p. 318.
(8) Ibidem, p. 338.
(9) Ibidem, p. 323. Also see, F. YENİŞEHİRLİOĞLU, loc. cit. [n. 3], p. 352.
(10) B. DEMİRSAR-ARLI & A. ALTUN, op. cit. [n. 4], p. 319.
(11) Ibidem, p. 328.
(12) Tim STANLEY, Palace and Mosque, London, V&A Publications, 2006, p. 107 ; F. YENİŞEHİRLİOĞLU, loc. cit. [n. 3], p. 348, 354.

379
B. KESKINER

Although tiles produced at Tekfur Sarayı kilns never reached the quality of Iznik, the innovative motives and inscrip-
tions they featured marked a turning point in the history of Ottoman tile decoration.13 Tekfur Sarayı tiles also included a
group with outstanding calligraphic compositions. Little has been said about this group that represents an important in-
novation in the application of calligraphy on tiles. This paper is about a small but highly important group of Tekfur Sarayı
tiles which bear calligraphic compositions designed by Sultan Ahmed III.

The first and most striking of those is a tughra (Ottoman imperial monogram). Although a tughra is the monogram of
Ottoman sultans in this particular case it was designed to compose a hadith of Prophet Muhammad and is here referred
to as a hadith-tughra (fig. 1). The hadith-tughra reading Shafâ’ati li ahl-i’l qabâiri min ummatî14, (“My intercession is for
those who commit greater sins in my community”), was composed on paper by Sultan Ahmed III twice. One is undated
and the other is dated 1123/1710. Both are preserved in the Topkapı Palace Museum (TSM, G.Y. 425 and G.Y. 947). In the
history of Ottoman calligraphy this is the earliest application in which a hadith was composed in the tughra shape. Both
of the compositions bear the signature of the Sultan in the form of a couplet, located to the left and right lower sides of the
composition.15 This outstanding calligraphic design is the only composition in the tughra format which was applied on
Tekfur Sarayı tiles.

There are three different applications of this hadith-tughra on Tekfur Sarayı tiles. Chronologically, its first application
is found on six polychrome tiles, located on the east-facing wall of the Topkapı Palace Kara Ağalar Mosque in the Harem
(fig. 2).16 This is the earliest known application of the tughra on tiles in the history of Ottoman calligraphy. It represents the
introduction of the tughra format to the epigraphic programme of Ottoman mosque interiors.17 This application, together
with calligraphic panels bearing other hadiths of the Prophet, belongs to a group of calligraphies with which Ahmed III
has re-introduced hadiths to the epigraphic programme of Ottoman mosques.18

Unlike other Tekfur Sarayı tiles bearing Ahmed III’s hadith-tughra, the application in the Harem Mosque has a unique
feature: the letters ‘ayn, ta and ya in the word shafâatî, are outlined in red. In all other inscriptions on tile surfaces the
calligraphy is only in white. The word ‘ati in red, hidden in the word shafâatî means: “disobedient slave” in Arabic. Located
to the heart of the word shafâatî, which means “my intercession,” the word ‘ati possibly indicates the Sultan himself and
perhaps his will to obtain divine grace through the intercession (shafâat) of Prophet Muhammad.

The only earlier use of multi-colour letters is found in the tomb of Sultan Selim I (r. 1512-1520), located in the qibla
direction of the graveyard of the Yavuz Sultan Selim complex, in Fatih, Istanbul, which might have provided an inspiration
for the Sultan Ahmed example. Above the tiled panels decorating both sides of the entrance of the tomb of Selim I, is a
white jali thulth dedicatory inscription in which the name “Sultan Süleymân Khân” is highlighted in yellow.19

(13) An outstanding panel in the Louvre has been published in Arabesques et Jardins de Paradis. Collections françaises d’art islamique (16 Octobre 1989-
15 Janvier 1990), Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1990, p. 84.
(14) Ismail b. Muhammed AL-ACLUNI, Kashf al-Khafâ wa Muzîl al-Libâs ‘Ammashtahara min al-Ahâdis ‘ala alsinat al-Nass, Beyrut, Dâr al-Kutub al-
‘Ilmiyya, 1988, II, p.10.
(15) The couplet signature on G.Y.425 reads: “İ’lâm içün ihlâsını Hân Ahmed-i yektâ – Güftârını şâh-ı rüsülün eyledi tuğra” (“As a declaration of his
sincerity, the peerless Han Ahmed - Created this tughra out of the words of the king of the prophets”). The couplet signature on G.Y. 947 reads; Şefî’
al-müznibînsin ey şeh-i iklîm-i mâ evhâ - Hadîs-i pâkini Sultân Ahmed eylemiş tuğrâ (“You are the intercessor for sinners on the day of judgment.
You, the king of the land of revelations / Sultan Ahmed has transformed your pure hadith into a tughra”).
(16) The Kara Ağalar Mosque was constructed during the reign of Ahmed III and decorated with Tekfur Sarayı tiles. Its decoration was completed in
1726. I would like to thank Professor Filiz Yenişehirlioğlu who drew my attention to these tiles.
(17) Following the Kara Ağalar Mosque in the Harem, the hadith-tughra of Ahmed III was applied on the walls of the Damad Ibrahim Pasha Mosque
in Nevşehir, Eski Mosque in Edirne, Great Mosque in Bursa and Yeni Mosque in Vodina (Modern Edessa). The hadith-tughras in the Kara Ağalar
Mosque and the Damad Ibrahim Pasha Mosque were applied on tiles only. The rest were inscribed in monumental scale on walls (Bursa), pillars
(Edirne) and transitional zones (Edessa).
(18) The importance of hadiths and institutions teaching the science of hadith (darülhadis) increased during the 17th century. Under Ahmed III it almost
became the only alternative discipline which could be used against the exceedingly orthodox ulema and the members of the madrasa. See Ali
YARDIM, “Osmanlı Devrinde Darülhadisler”, Osmanlı, Ankara, 1999, VIII, p. 163-175. For discussion on the formation of the exclusively Qur’anic
epigraphic programme of imperial mosques in mid-16th century see Gülru NECIPOĞLU, “Qur’anic Inscriptions on Sinan’s Imperial Mosques”,
Word of God, Art of Man. The Qur’an and its Creative Expressions, Fahmida SULEMAN (ed.), New York, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 69-105.
(19) A similar application is observed in Safavid Iran. Inscriptions on the maidân portal of the Masjid-i Shah in Isfahan, on the south îwân and on the
sanctuary dome, dated AH 1037/AD 1627-28, highlights Shah Abbas I’s name in tiles with a different colour. Gülru NECIPOĞLU, loc. cit. [n. 18],
p. 91.

380
SULTAN AHMED III’S CALLIGRAPHY ON TEKFUR SARAYI TILES

A single tile, located in the Damad Ibrahim Pasha Mosque in Nevşehir (fig. 3) has the second application of the ha-
dith-tughra. Although it is undated, it was possibly produced, in 1727, during the construction of the mosque. Its third
application is found on a single polychrome tile in the Nevşehir Museum.20 This tile was brought to the museum from the
Nar Köyü Mosque, built in 1728, by Damad Ibrahim Pasha’s chamberlain Osman Ağa.21 It was possibly produced in the
same year.

Both of these single tiles bearing the hadith-tughra of Ahmed III, appear to have been produced on the order of Damad
Ibrahim Pasha and brought to his homeland Nevşehir. It seems that the application of the hadith-tughra on Tekfur Sarayı
tiles was part of an on-going process which gave emphasis to Ahmed III’s various compositions in tughra format. The
application of Ahmed III’s tughra-shaped compositions on calligraphic panels and marble plaques, for decorative and
epigraphic purposes, supports this statement. Interestingly, this process went hand in hand with the Tekfur Sarayı produc-
tion. For instance, two other tughra-shaped compositions, which appear in Ahmed III’s Imperial Tughra Album (TSM, A.
3653), were carved on both sides of the entrance of the Holy Mantle Pavilion in the Topkapı Palace. These undated tugh-
ra-shaped compositions must have been located in situ in 1725 when the façade of the Hall of the Mantle of the Prophet
was renovated and decorated with Tekfur Sarayı tiles.

Ahmed III’s second calligraphic composition applied to Tekfur Sarayı tiles is found in the Harem Mosque, in the Top-
kapı Palace. The original of this composition, signed by the sultan, is the fa-tabârak allâhu (ahsan al-khâlikin) panel, in jali
thuluth script (TSM, 06-31655). The text is a Qur’anic verse: “Glory be to God, who is the most beneficent of creators”.22
Both in the original panel and in its application on tiles, the second half of the verse, ‘ahsan al-khâliqîn’ has been located
to the left upper corner of the composition.

In addition to the hadith-tughra and the jali thuluth Qur’anic verse, there is also a jali thuluth composition applied
on Tekfur Sarayı tiles (fig. 4). The composition consists of the names of God, the Prophet and the four righteous caliphs:
“Allâh, Muhammad, Abû Bakr, ‘Uthmân, ‘Umâr, ‘Alî” (hereafter the righteous caliphs composition). Although no signed
original could be found, its composition can be stylistically attributed to Ahmed III, based on its calligraphic features.

The earliest extant application of this composition is on the northern wall of the Ocaklı Sofa, in the Imperial Harem
of the Topkapı Palace. This is also the wall that has the fire place that gives its name to the room and has two mirror-im-
age applications of the righteous caliphs composition on both sides of the fireplace, each applied on twenty-four tiles. The
polychrome tiles on the other three walls of the Ocaklı Sofa were produced in the 17th century. A jali thuluth inscription
runs on these three walls and bears a text in Arabic praising Ahmed III’s father, Sultan Mehmed IV (r. 1648-1687).23 The
two righteous caliphs compositions on both sides of the fireplace, however, appear to be composed individually, unattached
to the main calligraphic band running on the other three walls. These support the hypothesis that the righteous caliphs
composition was designed by Ahmed III and applied as a memento as part of the epigraphic program praising his father.

The location, and the calligraphic features of the composition match no other calligrapher’s style but Ahmed III’s. An
outstanding feature of the righteous caliphs composition is the multi-functional use of some letters. The letter kaf, of Abû
Bakr, for instance, has been combined with the letter ha of Muhammad. A similar unauthorized combination is the use of
a single letter ‘ayn three times, in writing the names ‘Umâr, ‘Uthmân and ‘Alî. Also, ‘ayn, the first letter of ‘Uthmân, ‘Umar
and ‘Ali, is united with dal, the last letter of Muhammad. Similarly, the first letter of Muhammad, mîm, is united with ha,
the last letter of Allah. A similar unauthorized letter combination is found in Ahmed III’s pear-shaped signature. Only one
letter, a single mîm, has been used both for Ahmed and Mehmed in the signature; “Ahmed b. Mehmed Khân”. Outstanding
examples of such unauthorized letter combinations are found in Timurid and early Safavid calligraphic albums in the Top-
kapı Palace Library, which must have inspired Ahmed III in many instances. These unauthorized combinations support
the attribution of this composition to Ahmed III, whose virtuosity as a calligrapher is manifested in his signed works.

(20) This tile has been published by Emine NAZA-DÖNMEZ, “Nevşehir Müzesi’nde Bulunan Medine Camii Tasvirli Bir Çini Levha”, Şerare Yetkin
Anısına Çini Yazıları, Istanbul, Sanat Tarihi Derneği Yayınları: I, 1996, p. 109.
(21) Ibidem, p. 109.
(22) The Qur’an: 23/14.
(23) Cığ KEMAL, Sabahattin BATUR, Cengiz KÖSEOĞLU, The Topkapı Saray Museum: Architecture : the Harem and Other Buildings, translated and
edited by J.M. Rogers, London, 1988, p. 41.

381
B. KESKINER

The symmetrically composed, mirrored organisation in the Ocaklı Sofa resembles the mirrored jali thuluth basmala
panel24 (TIEM, 2724), in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul, bearing the signature of the sultan. There are
six single Tekfur Sarayı tiles with the righteous caliphs composition produced between 1725 and 1730. No other calligraph-
ic composition was applied to Tekfur Sarayı tiles so often. Its frequency also seems to support the hypothesis that it was
designed by Sultan Ahmed III himself. Further evidence will support this statement.

Two of the six tiles bearing the righteous caliphs composition are in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The
first one (V&A 1756-1892) is dated 1139/1727 (fig. 5) and was possibly produced for the Damad Ibrahim Pasha Mosque
in Nevşehir, constructed in the same year. The second V&A tile which is almost identical to the first, is undated (fig. 6).25
The inclusion of a zig-zag border framing the inscription on both of these tiles implies that the frame feature from the
calligraphic panel format was applied and adopted to single tiles bearing calligraphic compositions. In other words, a cal-
ligraphic panel effect was applied on tiles bearing calligraphy.

The fourth and fifth Tekfur Sarayı tiles bearing the righteous caliphs composition are located in the Damad Ibrahim
Pasha Mosque in Nevşehir. These two tiles, dated 1139/1727, are located on both sides of the mihrab of the mosque and
are almost identical. The tile on the left of the mihrab bears miniature depictions of the Holy Ka’ba and the Tomb of the
Prophet (fig. 7), although the one on the right lacks these depictions (fig. 8). There is certainly a connection between the
V&A tile (V&A 1756-1892) dated 1139/1727 and these two tiles on both sides of the mihrab of the Damad Ibrahim Pasha
Mosque.

There are three Tekfur Sarayı tiles in the Damad Ibrahim Pasha Mosque: the two righteous caliph tiles and the
above-mentioned tile bearing the hadith-tughra of Ahmed III. As we are certain that the original composition of the
hadith-tughra tile belongs to Ahmed III, the righteous caliphs composition on the other two tiles could well be attributed
to the Sultan as well. In fact, the significance of the righteous caliphs composition has been outlined with an additional
application on the rear upper side of the western wall of the mosque. The emphasis on this particular composition could
be linked to its textual content which consists of the names of God, the Prophet and the four righteous caliphs. Tradition-
ally in Ottoman mosques, the names Allah and Muhammad appear in jali thulth script on both sides of the mihrab and
the names of the four righteous caliphs on transitional zones. Therefore the present composition can be interpreted as a
compact formula of these names and appears to be designed primarily for being located in mosques.

The fifth righteous caliphs tile26 dated 1141/1729, is in the Nevşehir Museum. The museum accounts record that it was
in the Damad Ibrahim Pasha Mosque as well. The fifth tile was produced two years after the two earlier ones located on
both sides of the mihrab. This shows that there was an on-going interest in this composition and its application on Tekfur
Sarayı tiles. The sixth and last tile of this series is dated 1730.27 It is in a private collection in Istanbul and appears to be the
last Tekfur Sarayı tile with the righteous caliphs composition.

In 1730 Ahmed III was dethroned and Damad Ibrahim Pasha was assassinated. Although the Tekfur Sarayı ateliers
were active until 1735, no other Tekfur Sarayı tile with calligraphic inscriptions dated after 1730 is known. This supports
the supposition of this paper that Tekfur Sarayı tiles with calligraphic compositions were made for Ahmed III and his
grand-vizier. Although none of the righteous caliphs tiles have the signature of Ahmed III, this may have been because his
signature was never reproduced on tiles. Even the calligraphic compositions on Tekfur Sarayı tiles that have been copied
from his signed works do not reproduce his signature.

(24) Ali ALPARSLAN, Osmanlı Hat Sanatı Tarihi, Istanbul, YKY, 1999, p. 111.
(25) I would like to thank Dr. Mariam Rosser-Owen who drew my attention to this tile.
(26) E. NAZA-DÖNMEZ, loc. cit. [n. 20] p. 109.
(27) I would like to thank Professor Baha Tanman who drew my attention to this tile. It has been mistakenly identified as Kütahya and published by
Mr. Garo KÜRKMAN, Toprak, Ateş, Sır. Tarihsel Gelişimi, Atölyeleri ve Ustalarıyla Kütahya Çini ve Seramikleri, Istanbul, Suna ve İnan Kıraç Vakfı,
2005, p. 166-167.

382
SULTAN AHMED III’S CALLIGRAPHY ON TEKFUR SARAYI TILES

A small group of 19th century imitations of Ahmed III’s calligraphic works provide more evidence supporting the attri-
bution of the righteous caliphs composition to this sultan. In these works Ahmed III’s originals were copied and located in
the calligraphic composition, mostly in enlarged proportions. His hadith-tughra, for instance, was located in the centre of
several hilye panels and copied as individual calligraphic works.28 Supporting our attribution, the thuluth righteous caliphs
composition was also located in hilye panels and imitated individually by court calligraphers such as Mahmud Celaleddin
Efendi (d. 1829).29

In addition, the application of the thuluth righteous caliphs composition on the West facing wall of the Damad Ibrahim
Pasha Mosque is strikingly similar to the application of the hadith-tughra in mosques including the Great Mosque in Bur-
sa and the Eski Mosque in Edirne. This similarity shows that the righteous caliphs compositions was indeed designed by
Ahmed III and applied on different media just like the hadith-tughra.

Consequently, we know that a small group of tiles bearing Ahmed III’s calligraphic compositions were produced in
the Tekfur Sarayı workshops between 1725 and 1730. His hadith-tughra in the Topkapı Palace Museum (TSM, G.Y. 425,
G.Y 947) was first applied on tiles in 1725 and located in the Topkapı Palace Harem Mosque. This is the earliest known
application of a tughra on tiles. It also is the earliest known application of a tughra in mosque interior. Furthermore, due
to its text, it is part of Ahmed III’s attempt to re-introduce hadiths to the epigraphic programme of Ottoman mosques. The
second hadith-tughra tile is dated 1727, and was produced for the Damad İbrahim Pasha Mosque in Nevşehir. The third,
dated 1728, was produced for the Nar Köyü Mosque in Nevşehir. Both indicate İbrahim Pasha’s interest and involvement
in having them located in mosques in his homeland.

Chronologically the application of the righteous caliphs composition on tiles is as follows: the examples in the Ocaklı
Sofa of the Topkapı Palace, the V&A tile dated 1139/1727, the undated V&A tile possibly also produced in 1727, the two
tiles in the Damad İbrahim Pasha Mosque in Nevşehir dated 1139/1727, the Nevşehir Museum Tile dated 1140/1728 and
the tile, dated 1141/1730, in a private collection in Istanbul. Tiles bearing Ahmed III’s hadith-tughra and righteous caliphs
composition were first used in the Topkapı Palace and thereafter in Nevşehir. They look like mementos uniting Ahmed III’s
passion for calligraphy with his grand-vizier’s enthusiasm for revitalizing ceramic production.

(28) For Derviş Salih Recai Efendi’s hilye panel (dated1211/1796) bearing the hadith-tughra of Sultan Ahmed III, see Faruk TAŞKALE & Hüseyin
GÜNDÜZ, Hilye-i Şerife. Hazreti Muhammed’in Özellikleri, Istanbul, Antik AŞ. Kültür Yayınları, 2006, p. 120-121.
(29) For two hilye panels with the righteous caliphs composition, signed by Mahmud Celaleddin, see Faruk TAŞKALE & Hüseyin GÜNDÜZ, Hilye-i
Şerife. Hazreti Muhammed’in Özellikleri, Antik AŞ. Kültür Yayınları, Istanbul, 2011, p. 127, 129. Also see F. TAŞKALE & H. GÜNDÜZ, op. cit. [n.
28], p. 126-127.

383
B. KESKINER

Fig. 1. Sultan Ahmed III’s Hadith-tughra.

Fig. 2. The six polychrome tiles in the Kara Ağalar Mosque in the Topkapı Fig. 3. The single tile in the Damad Ibrahim Pasha Mosque in Nevşehir.
Palace.

384
SULTAN AHMED III’S CALLIGRAPHY ON TEKFUR SARAYI TILES

Fig. 4. The righteous caliphs composition.

Fig. 5. The first V&A tile bearing the righteous caliphs composition.

Fig. 6. The second V&A tile bearing the righteous caliphs composition.

Fig. 7. The tile on the left side of the mihrab of the Damad Ibrahim Pasha
Mosque in Nevşehir.

Fig. 8. The tile on the right side of the mihrab of the Damad Ibrahim Pasha
Mosque in Nevşehir.

385

Related Interests