Iznik ceramics can be dated largely by their colour and design.
1480-1520: This early phase in Iznik production saw impressive vessels, usually painted in a bold cobalt-blue and white, and often with patterns reserved in white on the blue ground. The decoration is heavily informed by that of other media, such as manuscript illumination, although many designs are also borrowed from the Chinese porcelains that were prized at the Ottoman court.
1520-1540: Turquoise blue is introduced, and decoration is largely painted on a white ground. Designs become simpler, but still frequently take Chinese motifs for inspiration. One rare group, which developed in this period, uses delicate spiralling scrolls with tiny leaves and flowers — known as ‘Golden Horn ware’, because of where it was first found. The period also saw the production of ‘Potter’s Style’ pieces, whose designs tended to feature central compositions, containing realistic representations of flowers in vases, or jugs on small tables.
End of the 1530s: Manganese purple and olive-green are added to the palette of blue and turquoise. Iznik of this period is often referred to as ‘Damascus ware’ because of the similarity that the colours bear to wares produced in Syria. Often large, round motifs with scale-like patterning are used in the decoration, which sometimes represents pomegranates or artichokes. Increasingly, one sees the naturalistic design that comes to dominate production.
1560-1600: This is the phase under which Iznik reaches its highest point. Artists combine a rich repertoire of often naturalistic motifs. The Ottoman Empire is at its height and enormous quantities of Iznik are commissioned, including large numbers of tiles destined to cover the walls of the buildings built by the chief court architect, Sinan. A strong turquoise, emerald-green, black and deep-red are added to the spectrum of colours, and outlines are often drawn in black.
The 17th century: Due largely to economic difficulties, there was a decrease in demand for Iznik in the early years of the 17th century, and quality began to fall. Coarser versions of the productions of the previous century were produced, the colours of works deteriorated — with red often appearing slightly brown — and decoration became less detailed, more obviously executed freehand. During this period, the quality of the paste and glaze also deteriorates, with the glaze taking on a bluish tone and becoming more prone to craquelure. Designs did, however, become freer, with the artist’s imagination often conjuring up unusual designs — sometimes with quirky figural representations.