‘The  exhibition “From lznik to Jerusalem” presents the encounter between the Turkish ceramics and the Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem, and their affinity for Chinese ceramic art. Although each of these traditions reflects the time and place in which it was created, they all focus on richly depicted and stylized motifs from the botanical world.

Turkish ceramics have their sources in Persia and Syria; however, beginning in the late15th century, a new and unique ceramic tradition developed in the cities of lznik and Kutahya on the western  Anatolian Plateau. This tradition combines Turkish Muslim art with the style of Persian miniature painting and Chinese ceramic art. The encounter with Chinese ceramics came about following the import of Chinese ceramic vessels to the court of the Ottoman sultans and the exposure of local artists to this tradition. Flowers and vegetal motifs, depicted in a naturalistic style, are common subjects of tiles and ceramic vessels from lznik.

The connection between Turkish ceramics and the city of Jerusalem was formed in the first half of the 16th century by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566), the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, who undertook to restore the tiles on the outer walls of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The walls of the structure, which dates from the 7th century, were re-covered with colorful, glazed ceramic tiles in the Turkish style. The presence of tiles in this tradition in such a key and significant edifice influenced the development of local ceramics in Jerusalem. In the 18th and 19th centuries, some of the tiles were replaced with new tiles that duplicated the original design.

At the beginning of the 20th century, similar circumstances led to another confluence of the Turkish and the Jerusalem ceramic traditions. In 1919 David Ohannessian, the Armenian ceramic artist and conservation expert, was invited to Jerusalem to restore the 16th·century tiles on the Dome of the Rock. To accomplish the task, Ohannessian traveled to Turkey and returned with a group of Armenian potters and painters, of whom the best known  were Nishan Balian and Megherdich Karkashian. Unfortunately, the earthquake that struck Jerusalem in 1927 diverted funds to other projects and restoration plans were never implemented. Nevertheless, Armenian ceramic artists settled in Jerusalem and created a unique ceramic school that exists in the city to this day.

The exhibition presents tiles and ceramic vessels from lznik and Kutahya from the 16th to the 18th centuries and Chinese ceramics from the Ming and Qing dynasties, which served as their inspiration. Also on display are Turkish tiles dated to the 16th century alongside 20th-century Armenian tiles – both of which covered the Dome of the Rock. This phase of the Dome of the Rock is naturalistically depicted in a 1943 painting by Ludwig Blum. Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem is represented in the works of the first generation of ceramic artists David Ohannessian, Nishan Balian and Megherdich Karkashian, as well as the works of contemporary Jerusalem artists as Marie Balian. Also exhibited are works by Martha Rieger and Ekrem Yazici, contemporary ceramic artists who show the same Chinese inspiration that influenced Turkish ceramics.

Sharon Laor·Sirak                                                                    Exhibition curator