© The Aga Khan Museum
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Scaled patterns began appearing on Iznik ceramics in the mid-16th century. They seem to have two possible sources of influence: China and Italy. Scaled dragons on Ming Dynasty wares (1368–1644), Chinese celadon (green-glazed ware), and scaled motifs on Italian Majolica (1530s–50s) made their way into the hands of Ottoman artisans through strong trade networks spanning from Asia to the Mediterranean Sea. 
The treatment of the scaled pattern on this dish is characteristic of the late 16th century. During Murad III’s reign (1574–95), white highlights on scaled patterns moved from the base of the scales to their upper edges, and blue and green fish scales were juxtaposed. Motifs such as cloudbands, white arabesques, and saz leaves often separated these coloured scales. 
Saz leaves had emerged as a decorative pattern on Ottoman ceramics in the early 16th century under the influence of Shah Qulu, an artist who became the court atelier director for Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66). That the Aga Khan Museum dish features saz leaves woven into an already dense design is quite typical of the late 16th century: in what Hülya Bilgi  calls the "fourth phase" of Ottoman ceramics, many different motifs were used together with exuberance, as if the cosmopolitan nature of the Ottoman Empire were reaching full and unfettered expression. This phenomenon could not be sustained in the centuries that followed. By the early 1600s, the golden age of Ottoman ceramics had already reached its peak. 
Similar dishes from the collections of Ömer M. Koç, British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—all dated between 1575 and 1585 —attest to the style’s enduring popularity even after Süleyman’s death in 1566.
- Filiz Çakır Phillip
1. Sotheby’s London, October 9, 2013, Lot. 151. The origin of the information is from Maria Queiroz Ribeiro, Iznik Pottery and Tiles in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection (Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2009), 79, where she calls the fashion "eclecticism" in the footsteps of John Carswell in Iznik Pottery (London: British Museum Press, 1998), 90–105. Carswell attributes the scaled pattern to two possible sources: either the scaly dragons on Chinese blue-and-white or, more likely, the frequent use of such patterns on Chinese celadon (63). See also Bernhard Reckham, Islamic Pottery and Italian Maiolica (London: Faber & Faber, 1959), 21–51, 44.
2. Atasoy and Raby, 260.
3. For a description of the four phases of Iznik ceramic decoration, see Bilgi, 26–32.
4. The Aga Khan Museum has another artwork with a similar fish-scale pattern: AKM873, a jug.
5. For a comparable plate in the Ömer M. Koç Collection, see Hülya Bilgi, 301, Cat. No. 179, dated between 1575 and 1580. Atasoy and Raby note two water bottles from the British Museum with a similar design: Cat. Nos. 743 and 745; Inv. No. G.1983.116; Inv. No. G. 1983.83. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a similar polychrome painted dish with slightly different motifs on a scaled pattern dated ca. 1575–80. For further information about this pattern, see Danielle Maternati-Baldouy, Un collectionneur et mécène marseillais: faïences provençales & céramiques ottomanes (Marseille: Musées de Marseille, 2006), 398–402.
Atasoy, Nurhan and Julian Raby. Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey. London: Alexandria Press, 1989. ISBN:9781856690546
Bilgi, Hülya. Dance of Fire: Iznik tiles and ceramics in the Sadberk Hanım Museum and Omer M. Koç collections. Istanbul: Vehbi Koç Foundation, 2009. OCLC: 854719226
Carswell, John. Iznik Pottery. London: British Museum Press, 1998. ISBN:9780714124414
Maternati-Baldouy, Danielle. Un collectionneur et mécène marseillais: faïences provençales & céramiques ottomanes. Marseille: Musées de Marseille, 2006. ISBN:9782879232355
Queiroz Ribeiro, Maria. Iznik Pottery and Tiles in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2009. ISBN:9781857595864
Reckham, Bernhard. Islamic Pottery and Italian Maiolica. London: Faber & Faber, 1959. OCLC: 310471515
Sotheby’s London, October 9, 2013, Lot. 151
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