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    Tips of the Trade

    "Cintamani" and Islamic Tiles


    Posted: 1.28.2002

    three ball and stripe design

    The Cintamani motif: stripes and three balls.

    Ming-like tile

    This Islamic tile has Ming influences.

    Dome Tile

    This Islamic tile was added to Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock in the 16th century.

    Tiles shown after Dan Elias says something like, 'I've seen these in homes on the ROADSHOW tour.'

    Tiles like this one made their way to the West in the 19th century.

    To trace the derivation of the word cintamani (pronounced chin'-tuh-mah-nee) is literally to take a trip around the world. Santa Barbara appraiser and Islamic tile expert Anthony Slayter-Ralph used the term at the Tucson ANTIQUES ROADSHOW to describe a design consisting of stripes and three balls. "It's possible they derive from early Buddhist symbolism, but so far, no one has come up with a definitive point of origin," explains Anthony, referring to the philosophy that bloomed far to the East of the Ottoman Empire. When used by Buddhist artists, the stripes might have connoted clouds, he says, or even tiger stripes when used by the Ottomans. "If you see it on textiles or ceramics, you know it's Ottoman. It's a real give-away," says Anthony of the design he calls both "startling and unusual."

    Learn more about these beautiful tiles with variations to suit a range of tastes and pocketbooks

    Ottoman Variations
    Early Islamic artists in Damascus, who made tiles using predominantly green, cobalt blue, turquoise and purple, also employed the cintamani motif. The Damascus tiles rarely use the bright red pigment wielded by tile artists in the Turkish part of the Ottoman Empire. Since Damascus was a provincial capital of the empire, artists there could paint without the formality that predominated tiles made in the capital. Observes Anthony: "The lines and drawings are a bit more free with a little more artistic license."

    Europeans began to appreciate the tiles during the 19th century, with many European museums buying them up between 1870 and 1910. Aristocratic Europeans saw these gorgeous Islamic tiles, so apparent in the fountains, walls, and gardens of its cities, on the Grand Tours that took them through the Middle East. The English artist and novelist William De Morgan was intrigued by these tiles, which clearly influenced his own extraordinary tile paintings as well as the work of Arts & Crafts practitioners such as William Morris.

    "People thought of the Middle East as a place of exoticness and virility," Anthony observes. "You could say it was fashionable to go there."

    Ming-like tile
    This Islamic tile has Ming influences.

    Western Influences
    After the Civil War, the United States became "besotted with Orientalism," Anthony notes, a fascination that drew many to Islamic tiles and arts. In America, Lockwood de Forest, partner in the interior-decorating firm of Associated Artists with Louis Comfort Tiffany—one of the founders of the American Arts & Crafts movement—traveled repeatedly to the Middle East. The enterprising de Forest sold Islamic tiles and other Oriental arts to an impressive array of Western clients, including steel kingpin Andrew Carnegie, transportation magnate Charles Tyson Yerkes, hotelier Potter Palmer, and even writer Mark Twain. The innovator also helped furnish the Orientalist Hudson River mansion Olana, created by his distant relative and mentor, American painter Frederic Edwin Church.

    The Orientalist fashion faded at the end of the 19th century, although collectors still prize early Islamic tiles today. Unfortunately, Anthony notes, "there really aren't that many great tiles around anymore." Many were thrown away, and others suffered time's travails. Notes Anthony: "Tiles have only become really valued in the last 20 or 30 years."

    Dome Tile
    This Islamic tile was added to Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock in the 16th century.

    Inspiring Art
    For those interested in collecting Islamic tiles, Anthony notes that unlike porcelain and many other antiques, "chips and dings" are acceptable. "You look for all the things you look for in a painting," Anthony recommends. "The composition matters. The clarity of the glazes in the firing matters too. You want to get as clear an image as possible." Anthony says he has long been fascinated with Islamic tiles because he is "excited by things that have quality ... and that are truly authentic."

    Some Islamic tiles, such as Damascus tiles from the 16th and 17th century, and Turkish ones from the 17th and 18th century, can be had for only a few hundred dollars. From there, the prices climb to the record $100,000 price paid recently. Observes Anthony: "Islamic tiles suit all pocketbooks."

    More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Asian Arts category:
    Cloisonné (What's That You Say?) (Tucson, 2007)
    What Was the Boxer Rebellion? (Omaha, 2005)
    Discovering Chinese Woodcarvings

    Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.