Kütahya Tiles and CeramicsKütahya is a city in Western Turkey, lying on the banks of the Porsuk river, 969 meters above sea level, at the foot of Ajem mountain. The region has large areas of gentle slopes with agricultural land and the town that is overlooked by a fortress. The city’s Greek name was Kotyaion, latinized in Roman times as Cotyaeum. Kütahya was under the control of Rome and Byzantium until the end of the 11th century when it was occupied by the Seljuk Turks in 1080. Thereafter, Kütahya became a border march between the Byzantine and Seljuk states. It changed hands several times before becoming the capitol of the Kurdish/Turkoman Germiyan principality in 1302. The city was finally absorbed into the Ottoman Empire upon Yakub’s death in 1429.
After Iznik, Kütahya was Ottoman Turkey’s most important centre of ceramic production. Industries of Kütahya have long tradition, going back to ancient times. Thanks to abundant deposits of clay in the area, ceramics were made here in large quantities in Phrygian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine times and the traditional techniques of this art have survived to the present day. Kütahya’s commercial importance stemmed from its location on the great road which ran through Asia Minor from Istanbul to Aleppo, and from its emergence as a center for the production of glazed and multicolored ceramics and tiles, which were used to decorate mosques, churches, and synagogues throughout the Middle East and Europe.
The pottery production of Kütahya. Forms and MotifsThe production of painted ceramic wares and tiles had begun in Kütahya by the end of the 1400 and perhaps much earlier. The earliest dated Kütahya tiles are the monochrome glazed bricks on the balcony the Kursunlu Kasimpasa Mosque in Kütahya (1377). During the early Ottoman and pre-Ottoman Turkish periods the Kütahya’s pottery industry essentially paralleled that of Iznik. In the 17th century Kütahya began to supplant Iznik as the center of the production of ceramic vessels and tiles in the Ottoman Empire. The famous traveler Evliya Chelebi (1611-1684) noted the abundance of ceramic wares produced in Kütahya. At the beginning of the 18th century the potteries of Kütahya provided decorative tiles for the repair of the palace of the daughter of Sultan Ahmed III, Fatma Sultan, for St. James Cathedral in Jerusalem and for many other newly built and repaired mosques and churches.
Lying outside of court influence, Kütahya’s ceramics remained unnoticed, overshadowed by the brilliant pottery of Iznik. However, from the 18th century (while the pottery of Iznik has been finally decayed),
Kütahya wares largely reflected the tastes of folk art, introducing the pictorial decoration in the form of scenes and figures from daily life. Relied on the free market for a living, the potters of Kütahya began to use new forms, patterns and colors, succeeding for a short while to produce ceramics for the world market. According to Hülya Bilgi “…the most important novelty, in Kütahya tiles and ceramics, which makes them particularly distinct from those made in Iznik, was the use of bright yellow as of the beginning of the 18th century. Towards the middle of the century, the range of colors used expanded with the addition of manganese purple and its increasingly dark tones. Embellishments came to include medallions in the form of serrated leaves and small free-style stylized floral bouquets, generally covering the entire surface …”.
Ceramics of Kütahya are characterized by a wide variety in decorative styles, heavily influenced by Chinese, Iranian and European pottery, as well as by the great Ottoman tradition. Among the Kütahya’s pieces, the most refined and of the highest quality are those made during the 18th century. Stylized floral motifs, motifs with Christian and religious themes, as well as human and animal figures decorate most of the 18th century Kütahya’s tiles and ceramics. The pieces dating from this period have a white or cream colored paste, white slip and transparent glaze. The motifs are painted underglaze in green, turquoise and yellow, cobalt blue and, from the mid-18th century onwards, manganese purple, with motifs being outlined in black. A second group of Kütahya wares consisting of dishes, lemon squeezer, bowls, bottles, plates and cups dating from the 18th century are decorated with stylized flowers, leaves and curling tendrils in cobalt blue, with the occasional addition of yellow, green or turquoise. Ewers and jugs of various shapes and sizes are decorated with cypress tree motifs in relief, circular crosshatched medallions and floral scrolls worked in free brushstrokes.
The pottersThe Kütahya craftsmen who made tableware were known as fincanci (cup makers). Consequently Muslim and Christian potters work together in Kütahya producing objects designed to meet the needs of both communities. Most of the Christians craftsmen of Kütahya were Armenians who played a particularly important role in the history of town’s pottery. There were also Christian potters of Greek origin. That is the reason for the numerous Christian themes (many of them with inscriptions in Armenian or Greek) depicting saints, angels, scenes from the New and Old Testament, motifs relating to the Christian liturgy and hanging ornaments (egg-shaped or spherical) with crosses and seraphims.
Apreham (Abraham) of Kütahya is the most known Armenian craftsman, due to a small ewer he decorated in the 16th century. The ewer with bulbous body is painted in shades of blue and cobalt with a tall spout rising above the level of the rim and a handle in the shape of an open-mouthed dragon. This object is today in the British Museum in London and has an inscription on the base. Writing in Armenian, the Christian craftsman gives his name – Abraham of Kütahya – and the year AH 959 (AD 1510). This is one of the oldest examples of Kütahya pottery.Turkish Mehmed Hilmi Efendi (Istanbul? – c. 1900) and his student Mehmed Emin Efendi (Kütahya 1872-1922), were of the most important master potters of Kütahya in the late 19th century. Especially Mehmed Emin Efendi gave new impetus to pottery production in Kütahya and became the largest tile producer in the early 20th century.
During the British occupation of Jerusalem just before WWI, British employed Armenian potters from Kütahya worked on the restoration of the tile panels of the Dome of the Rock and It is due to these craftsmen that a Kütahya type ceramic production started in the city.
In 1922, after the disastrous ending of the Greek campaign in Ottoman Asia, many Greeks and Armenian craftsmen moved to Greece as refugees. Among them, Minas Avramidis (1877-1954) and Makarios Vardaksis (1885-1950) master potters from Kütahya. After many difficulties, they established their own potteries in Thessaloniki, producing Kütahya style ceramics and impacting with their creative power the local traditional pottery.
In Neon Faliron near Athens, Minas Pesmatzoglou (a refugee from Sparta, Asia Minor), founded in 1923 a pottery factory called «ΚΙΟΥΤΑΧΕΙΑ» (Kütahya), in which many Greek and Armenian craftsmen from Kütahya were employed (among them Minas Avramidis from 1923 to 1925). Decorative motifs of Iznik and late Kütahya’s period were reproduced on the ceramics of this factory.
The decline of the golden era of Kütahya ceramics
By the middle of the 18th-century competition from Europe, especially Meissen and other European porcelain centers, made Kütahya productions look less attractive. It became more and more difficult to attract the international market against the production of porcelain that started in Saxony around 1710. Furthermore, the not so expensive technique of transfer printing that was discovered in Liverpool by John Sadler in 1755, had made ceramics cheaper to acquire for a wider public. By this time Kütahya potteries were offering indifferent patterns and coarser brushwork which could no longer rival the more sophisticated wares produced on an industrial scale. In the second half of the 18th century we observe a decline in quality of glaze and clay, with colors running and drawing not good as in the past. The poor quality of clay (while in the past most of the potteries preferred the first quality for their wares) is the main reason for the low competitiveness of Kütahya ceramics towards European.
When the international demand for Iznik style ceramics was revived in the late 19th century, the potters of Kütahya started producing wares decorated with classical Iznik motifs, patterns and designs. A new decorative vocabulary was definitively established, while the local style from previous centuries was abandoned. Thanks to this adaptation to market requirements and with state support during the second quarter of the 20th century, Kütahya’s traditional wares have survived to the present day despite all the difficulties and the problems.
1. Magic of clay and fire, Garo Kürkman, Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, Istanbul 2006.
2. Kütahya tiles and ceramics, Hülya Bilgi, Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, Istanbul 2006.
3. Kütahya ceramics and international Armenian trade networks, Yolande Crowe, V&A Online Journal, Issue No3, Spring 2011
4. Later Islamic Pottery, Arthur Lane, London, Faber & Faber, 2nd edition 1971.