Istanbul Glassware and Porcelain

The Istanbul Glass and Porcelain Ware collection is made up of approximately 2,000 pieces, with a large part of the collection being exhibited in the palace kitchens and in the Sherbet Chamber (Şerbethâne) and the Confectionery House (Helvâhâne), which are connected to one another. The production of glass in Istanbul began with the Mevlevi dervish Mehmet Dede who was sent to Italy by Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807) to learn glassmaking techniques. Having studied these techniques in Venice, he returned to Istanbul, where he began making glass pieces that, though at first resembling the glass products of Venice, soon began to show a distinct Istanbul style. In the glass workshops that were founded in Beykoz and that became synonymous with Istanbul glassmaking from the 19th century onwards, three different techniques were used: “çeşm-i Bülbül” (eye of the nightingale) glass; opaline glass; and crystal and transparent glass. Of these, it is “çeşm-i Bülbül” glass (in which coloured sticks of glass are bound with the body of the glass piece and then twisted) that is most identified with Beykoz glass.

The Ottoman porcelains in the collection, highly valuable and thus designed exclusively for use in the palace, can be classed into two separate groups: those branded as “Eser-i İstanbul” (Product of Istanbul) and Yıldız porcelains. The Eser-i İstanbul porcelains were the first Ottoman porcelains to be produced, beginning production in the time of Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839-61) in the workshops of Beykoz. The porcelain objects made in these workshops were produced using the underglaze technique and bear the “Eser-i İstanbul” brand on their bottoms. The colour of the paints used to decorate the piece are typically the same as the colour found in the brand. The production of Eser-i İstanbul porcelains, which are distinguished by their patterns of large flowers, lasted just thirty years before production was ended due to ongoing financial difficulties. Yıldız porcelains comprise the second group of Ottoman porcelains. Production began in 1890, in the time of Sultan Abdülhamid II (r.1876-1909), in a factory established in the garden of Yıldız Palace. The name of the factory was the Imperial Yıldız Factory of Chinaware (Yıldız Çini Fabrika-ı Hümâyûn). Porcelains produced here were marked with the crescent and star symbol and the year of manufacture.

One important detail of the Yıldız porcelains is that some of them are inscribed with the name of the artist who created them. These porcelains are decorated with floral patterns, traditional Ottoman motifs, landscapes, pictures of historical structures, portraits of the sultan, the calligraphic seal of Sultan Abdülhamid II, pictures of palace women and children and various animal designs. The porcelains decorated with Istanbul landscapes and pictures of historical structures today have a very high archival value. Though the Yıldız porcelains were primarily produced to satisfy the need for porcelain of the palace residents, they were also given as gifts to foreign statesmen and high-level Ottoman dignitaries. Additionally, Yıldız porcelains were sent to the kings, queens, tsars, and tsarinas of Europe as gifts of state and can still be found in European palaces today, albeit in small numbers. The third group of works in the Istanbul Glass and Porcelain Ware collection comprises of ceramic objects made of meerschaum. These ceramics were produced in Istanbul’s Tophane neighborhood, and thus called Tophane Works. Being of rather high quality and prestige, they were a type of ceramic used by palace residents and high-level dignitaries.