Topkapi Palace

The collection contains no pieces earlier than the 16th century, as some silver artifacts were melted down at a time when the imperial coffers lacked funds. Most of the remaining pieces were made by the court silversmith and are all marked “900 ayar sah” (90% pure sterling silver) and with the monogram of the relevant sultan. The artifacts are decorated with inlay, repousse, niello and latticework and gilded over the interior and decorative motifs. The earliest artifact in the collection is a silver coffee salver bearing the monogram of Suleyman I (1520- 1566), and a small bowl, both engraved with hatai and rumi motifs of Far Eastern origin. The two artifacts belong to a key period in the minor arts of the Ottomans, and it was from the first half of the 16th century onwards that we find the typical characteristics of Ottoman metalwork emerging. Silver bowls and ewers bearing the classical Ottoman decorative motifs reflect the taste of successive periods in form also. One ewer bearing the monogram of Ahmet III (1703-1730) is noticeably unadorned with motifs, while an Abdulmecit (1839-61) bowl and ewer set bears the carnation motif typical of the period, and a monogrammed set of the Mahmut II period ( 1808-1839) is distinguished by the imperial arms worked in high relief. Ewer and bowl sets were often accompanied by a soap dish.

The significance of the coffee ceremony in Ottoman society is plain from the number of silver, gilded and porcelain coffee sets found in the Ottoman palaces. The coffee samovar rested on a small silver brazier filled with hot ashes, and generally constituted a set, both artifacts bearing identical motifs. Coffee cup holders were among the implements of the coffee ritual, and silverware of this kind were worked in niello and filigree, inlaid and encrusted with precious stones. Porcelain cups were placed in their holders, which were brought before guests on a tray complete with the coffee ewer and brazier and covered sugar bowls. Incense holders and rosewater sprinklers were also a part of the paraphernalia of the ceremony. Other artifacts include tiny silver pipe braziers in which charcoal was burnt to light the long-stemmed hookahs, or water pipes, also part of the coffee ritual. These braziers were lidded and highly decorative. The pipe itself rested on a silver plate, a rimmed object in latticework. One of the finest sets of ceremonial paraphernalia as described is currently displayed in Topkapi, alongside other ceremonial and everyday palace silverware. One of the more interesting types of vessels are silver asure jugs, (others in porcelain and crystal are also to be found). These were pear-shaped vessels with lidded beak-like spouts and lugs, decorated with high relief (repousse) and chased motifs, which were used to pour sweet broth known as asure, which was cooked in great quantities in the Palace on the 15th day of the month of Muharrem, close to the Moslem New Year. The jugs in the collection reflect rococo influence. Other artifacts include large round dining trays, silver tureens with large floral finials on the lid, and sweetmeat and tea sets, all of which were used as regular tableware as well as during court ceremonies, and silver mirrors, candlesticks, and writing caskets.

Gifts presented to Abdulhamit II (1876-1909) to celebrate his 25th year as Sultan make up a group in themselves, among which the large encrusted vases and models are particularly interesting. Other diplomatic gifts presented to the throne include European and Russian silverware, dinner and tea sets and candlesticks in particular.

European Glassware

A relatively small display of European glassware is shown in the silverware gallery. Being fragile, comparatively little of this ware has survived. Among the more important pieces are two ‘latticino’ lamps, which must have been among the many artifacts ordered from the glass workshops of Venice from the 16th century onwards. Similar ware dating from the 16th-18th centuries to be found in the collection includes dessert jars, perfume vials, decanters and glasses, which were among the artifacts presented to the court over the centuries. A certain amount of ‘miscellaneous’ ware is also on exhibit, floral decorated vases, mirror handles and paperweights in particular.

A particularly important group of glassware for the collection is the Bohemian glassware, made in Czechoslovakia, which appeared on the Istanbul market after 1700 and was widely purchased thereafter. Its popularity was due to the fine, durable quality of the glass and the decorative workmanship of renowned -artists, and lasted throughout the 18th century, although with the arrival of Meissen porcelain on the world market after 1710, Bohemian glassware declined in quality. Bohemian crystal of the 18th century is well represented in both palace and private collections in Turkey. Among the colored crystal ware of the period are decanters, dessert jars and glasses. Bowls and ewers of green crystal that were made especially for the Palace are particularly notable. Water samovars and glasses presented as gifts to Abdulhamit II (in the late, 19th century) the products of the Moser factory in Carlsbad, Austria are also of interest. They bear the monogram of the sultan decorated in enamel. Also among the Abdulhamit gifts were fine gilded and enamelled vases presented by the Lobmeyr family, glassmakers to the Viennese court, which attest to the importance of Bohemian glassware even at that late period. A set of green Russian glasses, also of interest, was presented by Czar Alexander III ( 1881-94) and bears his seal. Examples of European, French, English and Irish crystals are also to be found in the collection.

European Porcelain

European porcelain is displayed it the gallery above the silverware section There are over 5,000 pieces in the collection, the majority of which in comprised of diplomatic gifts to the Ottoman sultans.

We know that Chinese porcelain was exported by the Mongols of the 9th and l0th centuries and utilized in the Ottoman palaces by the 14th century, but it was not until the discovery of kaolin, which is one of the basic ingredients of porcelain, near Colditz by the German chemist Bottger, in 1709-10. It was then that hard clay porcelain started to be manufactured, whereas it soon captured the European market. Early Meissen ware, the first hard porcelain produced on order during the J.G. Horold period (1720- 31) from the new Meissen factory (the Saxony royal factory founded by the Polish monarch Augustus II) , was the first ware to reach Turkey in quantity as it became fashionable both here and in Europe. The Palace collection includes tureens, plates and cups from that period. A number of pieces show some signs of Chinese and Japanese influence especially in the choice of Chinoiserie patterns. Ware of the subsequent period, that of Harold and Kaendler (1731-40) includes cups and sugar bowls and a certain amount of ware made especially for Turkey, the finest of which were made by order for the court, and are now on display in the Palace. Rococo (1745-63) and Marcolini ware, (1774-1814) is also represented here. Artifacts from the Berlin Royal Porcelain Factory, the second most important center of porcelain in Germany for the period include a large clock mounted on a base with two candlesticks and dated 1857, tea sets and fruit bowls marked K.P.M. One of the more important pieces in the collection is a large vase from the Nymphenburg factory founded in 1753, decorated by the Munich academician, Carl Heinzman in 1836 and presented the following year to Mahmut II by the Prince of Bavaria.

Among other important artifacts are some Du Paquier ware, early pieces from the Viennese factory founded in 1718 in what was then second most important European center of so-called hard paste porcelain. The Istanbul pieces, a bowl and ewer dated 1730-35 were made for the oriental market. Later Viennese ware dating from the last reign of the Austrian monarchy (1805-1864) were also of the kind made on order for oriental markets. These include a number of lidded pots, chargers, sweetmeat vessels (for sherbet) and plates bearing the mark of the Hapsburgs- a shield, which were acquired from the Istanbul market.

The Palace collection also boasts a number of examples of French porcelain, in particular soft paste ware produced in Vincennes from 1738 to 1756, and later in Sevres alongside Sevres hard-paste ware, after the Vincennes factory was transferred there in 1756.

The earliest piece in the collection is a soft paste vase dated 1816, decorated by Gilbert Drouet (1785-1825) .Other important pieces include jardinieres marked Charles X ( 1829-30) , the so- called ‘forest’ service bearing the mark of Louis Philippe (1830-48) and a compote set with the same mark. One interesting piece in biscuit ware is a statuette of a stag hunt and a horn-blower, while there are also some lidded jars originating from a Paris workshop which are encrusted with precious stones, and some Limoges ware of note.

Diplomatic gifts to the court include tableware and vases bearing the mark of Czar Nicholas I (1825-55) and made in the Moscow imperial factories, an assortment of European ceramics, and a set of ceramic tableware made in the Polish royal factory at Warsaw, the latter presented to Abdulhamit I (1770-1780) by the Polish monarch Stanislas Paniatowski in 1778. Other ceramics of interest are a blue and white flask bearing an oriental pattern with a silver lid, the product of Delph (1691-1721), a Falco ware ewer from Savona and various ceramic vessels from French, Spanish and German factories.