Ottoman glassware lives on

Ottoman glassware lives on
Saturday, January 12, 2008

Through millennia the beauty and functions of glassware have been
appreciated by many, from travel writers to sultans.

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

Glass was discovered most likely by chance several thousand years ago.

The earliest examples of glass come down to us from sites in the
Middle East and beyond. The Roman author Pliny thought that
glassmaking should be dated to approximately 5000 BC and he attributed
its spread to Phoenicians traders who sailed all over the
Mediterranean and even more distant places. The earliest glassware
pieces still in existence have been dated to approximately 3500 B.C.
Egypt and eastern Mesopotamia although the production of beads may
have occurred long before. In Egypt the first beads were made of glass
obsidian prior to the discovery of the manufacturing processes. It
wasn't until the 16th century B.C. that evidence of vases was found.
The earliest pieces are not only to be found in Egypt and Mesopotamia
but also in Mycenae, China and Tyrol.

Of all the manufacturers of ancient glass it is the Romans who
surpassed all others. Ships plied their trade all over the
Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast and the Red Sea and trading caravans
traveled far to the East – loaded with lamps, perfume bottles, vases,
and other goods. The Middle East, Syria (the former Mesopotamia) and
Egypt continued to make glass as well and the Byzantines were also
well known for their glassware including much made for churches. It is
likely that high quality glass making in Byzantium was the result of
the collapse of the Western Roman Empire when many craftsmen would
have left Italy for the comparative safety of the eastern empire.

So there were any number of places from which the Ottomans could buy
excellent glassware and could lure craftsmen to Istanbul where they
would design and manufacture glass.

Glass and glassmaking among the Ottoman Turks

Anatolia was home to many of the same artistic endeavors as were to
be found in neighboring areas so the glassmaking centers of Damascus,
Aleppo and Tyre would be of critical importance for the spread of
knowledge about and interest in glass making. We know for instance
that after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Fatih Sultan Mehmed
did everything possible to increase the population of the city and
attract artisans of all sorts from many areas. When cities were
conquered their artisans were spared and brought to Istanbul. In order
to encourage their work, the very best went to work in the palace
workshops turning out designs and executing them.

According to what we know, these artisans were protected by the
government; housed and fed, given apprentices, salaries and even
bonuses for especially beautiful works. As many as 45 craftsmen might
be working in the palace at any one time. Prices where pieces would be
sold were strictly controlled, helped by the fact that there was
glass-quality sand in and around Istanbul. Records were kept in such
detail that it is possible to find out the names of the glass workers
and their salaries. Foundations were set up that would take care of
the workers when they became old enough to retire or if they became
incapacitated through some kind of accident.

According to Fuat Bayramoğlu, glass making outside the palace was
carried out between Eğrikapı and Tekfur Sarayı on the west side of the
city by the walls and also in Bakırkoy around the Baruthane-i Amire.
Most likely this was to avoid the possibility of fire since most of
the structures inside the city walls were made of wood and were
situated very close to each other if not actually touching. Again the
products were strictly controlled.

The 17th century Ottoman travel writer, Evliya Çelebi, talks of how
sweet and colorful the glassware was that was produced in a workshop
found in Bostancı on the Asian side of Istanbul. Basically three main
types of glassware were produced – plain, colored and crystal.

Plain and colored glass was used in windows and even today it is
possible to see examples at Topkapı Palace that are still in place.
Their existence actually adds to the mystique of many rooms such as
the sultan's salon in the harem. The best in fact were in small pieces
as if mullioned and arranged to form a design.

The more luxurious types were products made for everyday use. These
included tulip vases, glasses, boxes, lamps, candleholders, candy
dishes and the like. Another type of product was the rounded
ball-shapes that one finds in the domes of hamams and these could be
colored or transparent. These same items were used by the Ottoman army
during the siege of Rhodes in 1522. But in this case they were used as
bombshells or bullets rather than for light or decoration.

In the famous illustrated Surname that was produced for the
circumcision of the son of Sultan Murad III (1578-1595), there are
miniature paintings that show the glassmakers passing in front of the
sultan's loge. One miniature shows examples of glassblowing with the
blowers being brought along on a float that included an oven to
provide the heat while another shows the glassblowers holding vases
and escorting a cart with examples of their glass pane work.

By the second half of the 18th century, all of the glassworks around
the city were collected at Tekfur Sarayı and the glassmakers had to
pay rent for the workshop facilities.

Ottoman glass in later years

Beykoz glassware became popular in the 19th century. The first
workshop to be established in this small Bosporus village on the Asian
side was set up by a Mevlevi dervish named Mehmet Dede. A variety of
products such as cups, glasses, vases, jelly dishes and the like were
turned out. What distinguished these was that the white, milk-colored,
blue or transparent pieces were decorated with gilt or enamel. It
seems that Sultan Selim III had sent Mehmet Dede to Venice to learn
the art of glassmaking there and he brought the skill back with him
along with examples.

Not far away in 1934, the famous Paşabahçe Glass Factory was set up
in Paşabahçe just a short distance away from Beykoz. Today Paşabahçe
is one part of the huge conglomerate Şişecam, a company devoted to
design, production and research and development and a company that has
become one of the leading glass manufacturers in the world.

So Ottoman glassmaking lives on as Şişecam conquers the world.

"Who, when he first saw the sand and ashes by casual intenseness of
heat melted into a metalline form, rugged with excrescences and
clouded with impurities, would have imagined that in this shapeless
lump lay concealed so many conveniences of life as would in time
constitute a great part of the happiness of the world? Yet by some
such fortuitous liquefaction was mankind taught to procure a body at
once in a high degree solid and transparent, which might admit the
light of the sun and exclude the violence of the wind…" (Samuel
Johnson, in The Rambler)




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