A rare monumental Iznik calligraphic tile, Turkey, Circa 1565

of rectangular form, decorated in underglaze cobalt blue, turquoise and relief red, outlined in black, with a lobed cartouche containing calligraphic inscription adorned with foliate motifs on a clear white background, the left-hand corners with arabesque motifs set against a blue ground. 31.5 by 55cm. Estimate 400,000—500,000 USD

Parts of an inscription ending with:

ya raziq al-'ibad

'O The Provider for [Your] servants!'

This outstanding ceramic tile is one of the most remarkable Iznik tiles in existence. Its truly monumental size makes it a technical tour de force which is only surpassed in Iznik tile production by the four huge blue and white tiles of the Sunnet Odasi, the Circumcision Room in the fourth court of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (see, Raby, J. and N. Atasoy, Iznik, The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, London 1989, p.102). The distinctive sealing-wax red has a transparent blood-like colour which is typical of the earliest experiments with firing bole-red at Iznik in the late 1550s and 60s.

Originally this tile would have abutted another similar tile to its right forming a cartouche with a two-part inscription. This pair would then have been joined by as many other pairs of related tiles as the perimeter of the hall, or possibly courtyard, required. Given the pious text of the inscription, the frieze thus formed is likely to have adorned the walls of a mosque, placed above door or window lintels.

The only surviving companion to this tile, now in the collection of the Benaki Museum, Athens, is illustrated in the catalogue Benaki Museum, A Guide to the Museum of Islamic Art (ed. A. Ballian and M. Moraitou, Athens, 2006, fig.210, p.156) and will soon be published in J. Carswell, Iznik Pottery & Tiles: Ottoman Ceramics in the Benaki Museum. The Benaki tile was acquired by the Greek collector Anthony Benaki directly from Boghos Ispenian in Cairo in 1930, precisely the same time when our tile was purchased by the family who owned it until the 1980s. The Benaki tile is also the left-hand side of a two-tile cartouche, and therefore is a companion rather than a pair to the tile here discussed.

John Carswell has been unable to trace these tiles to any standing Ottoman building, though it is his belief (pers. comm. Jan 2009) that the tiles may have originated from a sixteenth-century mosque such as the one demolished in the nineteenth century to make way for the railway at Sirkeci, the new terminus of the Orient express.

Sotheby's. Arts of the Islamic World. 19 Mar 09. Doha www.sothebys.com photo courtesy Sotheby's