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Cultural Communications: an Iznik Dish

The Iznik dish is representative of the artistic styles and ideas that were brought over to Elizabethan England from Anatolia (modern day Turkey), a cultural cross-communication that is reflected in Shakespeare's "Othello".

Emily Millward

Produced between 1575 and 1625 by craftsmen working in the Iznik kilns in north-west Anatolia (modern day Turkey) this dish is an excellent example of the encounter between Islamic art and Shakespeare’s England. During the Elizabethan period, people began to travel further afield and globalisation was on the rise. As such, the Elizabethans were exposed to artistic styles and cultural ideas that they had not previously experienced. Although dishes were made to largely be exported from the Ottoman Empire, only four merchants in London in the 1580s were known to have imported Iznik ware. This makes our Iznik dish incredibly rare.

Iznik Dish
STRST: SBT 2005-18, an Iznik dish

The dish is decorated with a floral motif, typical of Iznik ware, and is glazed. The element of the crimson flowers (possibly carnations) allow for the accurate dating of the piece; the Armenian bole - a specific mixture of clay containing iron oxide to create a red pigment - was not used in the production of Iznik ware before 1557. The copper staples that can be seen on the reverse of the dish are most likely English, dating from the 1600s. This repair demonstrates the ways in which wealthy English owners would preserve their expensive and rare Iznik wares. It also suggests that the dish was purely decorative, as the cracks remain wide and render the use of the dish as a receptacle as fairly useless.

The importation of such rare and valuable goods to England in Shakespeare’s time illustrates the interest in the artistic styles of other cultures. So far removed from the type of wares produced in England at the time, Iznik ware must have seemed exotic and so unusual in comparison. The communication between cultures illustrated by Iznik ware is also reflected is Shakespeare’s Othello. The eponymous character and his Moorish heritage interacts (and tragically clashes) with the classical Venetian culture.