The city of Kustantiniyya (or Konstantaniyya), was commemorated in Ottoman calligraphy from the last quarter of the fifteenth century. Within the same period, hüsn-i hat (calligraphy) obtained an Ottoman identity with Sheikh Hamdullah (1429–1520) in Istanbul. This Ottoman calligraphy, influenced by the refinement of the period, reached its peak at the end of the nineteenth century. It was said that “the Noble Qur’an was revealed in the Hejaz, recited in Egypt, and written in Istanbul” (though Istanbul had fine recitation as well). “Writing” the Qur’an was not restricted to bound volumes of the Qur’an itself; its suras were also inscribed in the jali thuluth style on the walls of mosques, and its verses on their domes and plaques. It was in this field that calligraphy constantly developed during the five centuries of the Ottoman era, and it was here that it reached a peerless level of execution in Istanbul. In the same way that Yahya Kemal (1884–1958) and Mesud Cemil (1902–1963) refer to Turkish music as “Istanbul music,” it is possible to use the term “Istanbul calligraphy” to describe Ottoman-Turkish calligraphy.

After the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, one of the first and newest elements to enter the territory was the Arabic-Islamic alphabet. This was also probably true for the previous capital cities of Ottoman, Bursa, and Edirne. Developed in the previous centuries, this alphabet was used in many Islamic countries; it was given its final form by Yaqut al-Musta’simi (d. 1298), who lived in Baghdad during the Abbasid and Ilkhanid periods in the thirteenth century. This style of writing was accepted in the majority of Islamic countries, particularly in Central Asia and Iran.

1- A sample of Ahkam-ı sitte (six rules) written by Sheikh Hamdullah

2- The first pages of the Qur’an written in naskh style by Şeyh Hamdullah for Sultan Bayezid II

Before the conquest of Istanbul, the situation was the same for the Ottomans. The aklam-i sitte, or “six scripts” of calligraphic writing, comprised the styles of thuluth, naskh, muhaqqaq, rayhani, tawqi‘, and riqa‘. Of these, it was the last two that were used in the edicts and farmans issued by the Divan-ı Hümayun (Imperial Council). Of the other styles, tawqi‘ was preferred for texts, riqa‘ for longer works, and naskh and rayhani for transcribing the Qur’an.

The Aklam-i Sitte in Istanbul

No Qur’anic text of artistic value from the first years after the conquest of Constantinople (the Fatih Period) has survived until the present day. The manuscript Qur’anic texts that came to Istanbul to provide Muslims with a written version of the Qur’an were likely obtained from Edirne, the former capital city of the Ottomans, or from Amasya, a city that was a center of culture in the second half of the fifteenth century. The copies of the scientific and medical books requested by Sultan Mehmed II (1451–1481) for his personal library were obtained in this way, and many of these still exist today. In the inscriptions on monuments that were introduced to the new Ottoman city of Istanbul, the first calligraphers we encounter are a father and a son from Edirne. Their contribution to the field is discussed in the section on the inscriptions in Istanbul (Picture 44, 45).

Istanbul is a city in which classical calligraphy became stylized and new kinds of calligraphy were developed. This section begins by briefly outlining the first changes introduced to calligraphy in Istanbul, and then moves on to discuss the new styles of calligraphy developed there.

3- The <em>jali thuluth</em> style calligraphy inscription in Bayezid Mosque written by Şeyh Hamdullah

4- A musalsal <em>jali thuluth</em> style calligraphy board written by Ahmed Karahisari

Sultan Bayezid II (1481–1512) was a great calligrapher, and was born and raised in Amasya. He came to Istanbul after ascending to the throne, and his calligraphic excellence came with him. The earliest sultan known to have received training in calligraphy, Sultan Bayezid II encouraged his teacher from Amasya, Sheikh Hamdullah, to carry out in-depth research and studies into the yaqut style of calligraphy. This knowledgeable calligrapher, who wrote in the yaqut style, was very well acquainted with the secrets of the aesthetic nature of the calligraphy masters from the thirteenth century; the sultan appreciated the value of a work as well as its beauty, and took both to heart. In written sources, it is stated that the sultan secluded himself for a few months in the village of Sarıkadı (today Sarıgazi, Alemdağı, Istanbul). His success in calligraphy is thought to be the result of this seclusion.

In hüsn-i hat, the hands of even the greatest calligrapher will transmit letters or groups of letters onto the paper in a way slightly different way from that of other artists; this is part of human nature. The sheikh chose the best of these works and altered them in his own way, something that only a “calligraphy master” can do.

Beginning in 1485 in Istanbul, Amasyalı Sheikh Hamdullah began to practice naskh calligraphy and continued to use different styles from the aklam-i sitte, thus creating a new style (Picture 1). Prominent calligraphers of this style refer to it as şeyh-i sani (the second sheikh), illustrating the influence of Sheikh Hamdullah’s style at this time. This fundamental change to the aklam-i sitte is briefly reflected in the following couplet, in which the words naskh and muhaqqaq, styles of calligraphy used in the period of the Sheikh, carry a double meaning:

When Shaykh-oğlu Hamdi’s style arose,
So surely [muhaqqaq] was Yaqut’s style deposed [naskh].

Sheikh Hamdullah’s father was one of the sheikhs of the al-Suhrawardi tariqa, thus the Sheikh used the signature “Ibn al-Sheikh” (son of the sheikh). Since he was the sheikh of the Atıcılar Tekke in Okmeydanı, he was also referred to as Sheikh Hamdullah Efendi. It was through him and his students that the first Istanbulî changes to the aklam-i sitte were made, and these reverberated in the sixteenth century (Picture 2). But all good things must come to an end. The Sheikh and his students were not as successful in the jali thuluth style of calligraphy, which was written in large fonts and used in inscriptions (Picture 3), and the influence of the Sheikh’s style faded away by the last quarter of the seventeenth century. But before addressing its decline, I should touch briefly on the new aklam-i sitte movement in Istanbul in the sixteenth century.

5- A page from the chapter A page from the chapter al-An‘am written by Ahmed Karahisari (written in <em>muhaqqaq, naskh, masahif</em> and <em>thuluth</em> style calligraphy)

6- A <em>thuluth</em> naskh style couplet written by Mustafa Dede

7- A <em>thuluth</em> naskh style couplet written by Derviş Ali

Born in Afyonkarahisar, Ahmed Şemseddin Efendi (1470?–1556) made a name for himself under the pseudonym Karahisarî; he practiced the yaqut style of the aklam-i sitte in Istanbul with Esedullah Efendi (d. 1488). The latter was born in Kirman, Iran, and thus was known as Kirmanî. It is likely that Ahmed Şemseddin Efendi studied the Yaqut style of the aklam-i sitte and tried to revive the methods of Sheikh Hamdullah, although adding his own twist (Picture 4). Due to the fact that such a great man had trodden the path before him, Karahisarî was unable to reach the perfection of Sheikh Hamdullah in his letters, but the arrangements he produced are remarkable and had not been attempted by any other (Picture 5). Such works were commemorated in the following couplet:

Karahisarî proves his worth in beautiful lines,
And with them, how the writing shines.

His jali thuluth was more successful than that of the Sheikh. It is for this reason that I am of the opinion that if the Sheikh’s achievement in creating the letters and Karahisarî’s superiority in arrangement could have been brought together in one calligrapher, then the Râkım era, mentioned below, would have occurred before the eighteenth century.

Before the conquest of Constantinople, Islamic countries, which gave importance to hüsn-i hat, preferred the following layout for an artistic rendition of the Qur’anic page: “1 line muhaqqaq + 5 lines naskh + 1 line thuluth (or muhaqqaq) + 5 lines naskh + 1 line muhaqqaq.” All these forms of calligraphy were written to imitate the final form of Yaqut that was common in thirteenth-century Baghdad. Karahisarî began to write a sample from the Qur’an in this complicated form of aklam-i sitte, which at that time was unpopular in Ottoman calligraphy; however, he did not live long enough to complete this work.1 Hasan Çelebi (d. 1594?) was the closest to follow in his footsteps, as we can see from his inscriptions in Süleymaniye Mosque and Edirne/Selimiye Mosque. But artistic preferences in Istanbul drifted away from Yaqut, and Karahisarî’s disciples were only able to continue down that path for one more generation of calligraphers; this style came to an end with the calligrapher who decorated Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque and Tophane, Demircikulu Yusuf Efendi (1514–1611).

8- The first pages of the Qur’an written by Hafız Osman in naskh style

9- A <em>thuluth</em> naskh style couplet written by Hafız Osman

10- The first pages of the Qur’an written in naskh style by Yedikuleli Seyyid Abdullah for Sultan Ahmed III

Sheikh Hamdullah mentored many calligraphers and his style was transmitted to future generations by his son-in-law Şükrullah Halife (d. 1543) and grandson Mustafa Dede (1495–1538) (Picture 6). In the meantime, skilled calligraphers developed the art of hüsn-i hat by composing new works and mentoring new students. Those artists who were practicing calligraphy in Istanbul were sometimes appointed to the provinces as officers, and thus the Istanbul style of calligraphy spread to rural areas. The Ottomans ultimately came to embrace naskh calligraphy as their preferred style for the Qur’an, and the demand for the Qur’an, En‘âm-ı Şerîf, and prayer books in this style was very great. For this reason, Tuhfe-i Hattâtîn, an important work that serves as a source for information about calligraphy, described naskh calligraphy in the eighteenth century as hâdim-i Kelâm-ı Kadîm (the servant of the Qur’an).2 Handing down the shaykh’s style to future generations, Imam Mehmed (d. 1642), Ramazan b. İsmail (d. 1680), Derviş Ali (d. 1673), Suyolcuzade Mustafa Eyyûbî (d. 1686), and Ağakapılı İsmail (d. 1706) were leading names that come to mind (Picture 7).

The aklam-i sitte underwent a second evolution at the hands of a calligraphy mastermind, this time one born in Istanbul, from 1678 on. The master Hafız Osman (1642–1698) (Picture 8) reached the level that the sheikh, originally from Amasya, had reached almost two centuries earlier. He did this by making selections among the letters and making “local alterations” that laid the groundwork for what would become known, when it achieved its ultimate calligraphic beauty, as the Hafız Osman style (Picture 9). As a natural consequence, the Sheikh style of writing was forgotten over the following fifteen years, and slowly sank into oblivion. Among the many calligraphers who were trained and given icazet (diplomas) by Hafız Osman, Yedikuleli Seyyid Abdullah Efendi (1670–1731) attained the greatest heights (Picture 10).

After Hafız Osman, in Istanbul the muhaqqaq and rayhani styles from the aklam-i sitte were abandoned, though the use of muhaqqaq for writing the basmala has lasted until today (Picture 28). tawqi‘ calligraphy continued to be used to write the surebaşı (inscription at the beginning of a Qur’anic sura) in some large-text Qur’ans, but otherwise gave way to riqa‘. Riqa‘, with its round characters and connected letters, was very popular and widely used for the signatures of the calligraphers and all kinds of icazet.

The popularity of any art form is directly related to the interest shown to it at the state level. Calligraphy and related book arts were favored by Ottoman sultans and grand viziers. In addition to collecting works, they continued the tradition of calligraphy by personally practicing it when young. Many sultans and viziers would later abandon this occupation under the weight of state affairs. For instance, Sultan Mustafa II (1664–1703) and Sultan Ahmed III (1673–1736) both learned the thuluth-naskh style from Hafız Osman (Picture 11), the first as a ruling sovereign and the second as a prince. Sultan Mustafa II would hold the inkpot for his master, holding it in a position that allowed the artist to easily dip his pen. Once, he became so excited at what he saw he remarked, “No one will ever reach the level of Osman Efendi!” The response of the master is very meaningful, “Estağfirullah [not at all, or seeking forgiveness from Allah for a compliment], there will be many other Hafız Osmans, my sultan!” Those sultans who left inscriptions in the city are mentioned in the section on Istanbul epigraphs.

11- Kalima al-Tawhid (The statement of the Unity of Allah) located over the gate of the room of Hırka al-Sa’ada in Topkapı Palace written by Sultan Ahmed III

12- A <em>thuluth</em> naskh style double couplet written by Ismail Zuhdi

13- A <em>jali thuluth</em> style stacked (istifli) board written by Mustafa Rakim

Before the printing press came to the Ottoman state, there was a calligrapher’s guild whose members devoted their lives to copying and reproducing the approximately six hundred pages of the Qur’an. Taking the speed at which they could write into consideration, each of these artists was essentially a human printing press. In Turkish history, before the arrival of the printing press, manuscript copies of the Qur’an would be used, and people would purchase a Qur’an copied by a renowned scribe or an ordinary manuscript of the Qur’an, according to their means. Those that could not afford such a manuscript would read the copy in the mosque, which would have been donated by a philanthropist to the masjid or tekke that they attended.

Although there is no mention in the sources of the general physical characteristics of the Qur’an manuscripts, it is possible to sort those that were written in Istanbul according to size thanks to some of the following expressions:

14- The <em>jali thuluth</em> belt in Nuretiye Mosque written by Mustafa Rakim

15- One of the inscriptions over the gates of Fatih Mosque written by Mustafa Rakim in <em>jali thuluth</em> style

Cami (rahle) mushafı: A Qur’an written and dedicated to be recited in mosques; of maximum size, and commonly placed on rahle (a stand for reading the Qur’an)
Büyük (kebîrî) kıt‘a mushaf (1/1): Half the size of a rahle mushaf
Vezirî kıt‘a mushaf (1/2): Half the size of a büyük kıt‘a mushaf
Küçük (rubu‘) kıt‘a mushaf (1/4): Half the size of a vezirî kıt‘a mushaf
Sümün kıt‘a mushaf (1/8): Half the size of a küçük kıt‘a mushaf
Sancak mushafı:
This copy does not have any specific proportions; it was used for hanging from a banner, and was generally hexagonal or octagonal in shape, or, rarely, rectangular, and was the smallest Qur’an.

Of course, copies of the Qur’an have been written that do not fit into these dimensions; however, the Qur’ans in the Ottoman style were all rectangular in shape, and the script covered the manuscript at a ratio of four to seven. The width of nearly all of these Qur’ans was almost the same as the height.

The number of Qur’an manuscripts copied by great calligraphers is few; this is due to the extreme care and meticulousness required in this process. However, there were copyists who worked rapidly, such as Ramazan b. İsmail, Mehmed b. Ebubekir (d. 1726), and Çemşir Hafız Salih (d. 1821). Among these, Ramazan Efendi wrote half a cüz (a thirtieth part of the Qur’an) every morning and thus was able to complete an entire Qur’an every two months; he was recorded as having copied four hundred Qur’ans in his life.

The calligraphy experts who worked on transcribing the Qur’an inscriptions would start from the tenth cüz and continue through the thirtieth and final cüz. They would then return to Sura al-Fatiha and copy the first ten cüz; this was done to ensure that the first ten cüz were written in the best possible naskh calligraphy, with the idea being that any flaws in the calligrapher’s style would gradually work themselves out over the course of transcribing the final twenty cüz of the Qur’an. When a page was completed, the harekes, which help with reading the text, would be added with a thinner pen, while yet another pen and surh ink would add the tevakkuf (stopping) signs.

Hafız Osman and some other famous calligraphers would add the hareke and secâvend marks only after having completed copying the cüz; thus, they were able to review the text one more time to ensure that there were no errors.3 If there were an error that could not be rectified, then that page would be removed; these were known as muhrec sahife. When naskh calligraphy reached its zenith in the nineteenth century, the Istanbul calligraphers would not let these pages be wasted, but would give them to tezhip (manuscript illumination) artists. The tezhip artists would decorate these individual pages to show them to customers as an example of their work and to help determine a price for their services.

16- A warrant written in jali diwani style with Sultan Selim II’s sultanate signature

17- A <em>jali thuluth</em> style board written by Mahmud Jalaladdin

Copying the Qur’an in an artistic manner was an undertaking that required time and great care. The length of time depended on the speed and spiritual state/mood of the calligrapher. This is the perfect place to narrate an incident from the nineteenth century. Yahya Hilmi Efendi (1833–1907) was a late-period Istanbul naskh calligrapher. When he was preparing to go on Hajj, his mother wanted to accompany him. Unfortunately, they did not have enough money for both of them to go. So in the first days of Ramadan, the young calligrapher wrote half a cüz every morning and half every evening and completed a copy of the Qur’an in twenty-six days. His mother took this Qur’an to a wealthy person and received a 7,500-kuruş “gift” in return for it. Thus, she was able to accompany her son on Hajj. To put this story into context, in the later years of his life, Yahya Hilmi Efendi wrote one or two pages a day, thus taking one and a half years to complete a copy of the Qur’an. As a side note, I would like to explain the use of the word “gift” above. To earn money for a Qur’an, instead of putting a price on it and selling it, the customer would ask, “What is the value of the gift” or “How much is the gift?” This is a reflection of a deep-rooted Istanbul custom and courtesy. Indeed, it was not thought appropriate to put a price on the Holy Qur’an.

Much like the poetry of Nedim, the thuluth, naskh, and riqa‘ calligraphy of Hafız Osman carries the essence of Istanbul; however, his jali thuluth does not have a quality that reflects the greatness of his name. The works known to belong to this calligrapher are lines in some muraqqaa (calligraphy samples) that he wrote in jali thuluth instead of thuluth for the inscriptions on the fountain of the Şehit Süleyman Paşa Mosque in Üsküdar and the headstone of Siyavuş Pasha in Karacaahmet Cemetery. Written with a broad nib, jali thuluth calligraphy began to lose its popularity after the sixteenth century; in addition to Hafız Osman, calligraphers like Eğrikapılı Mehmed Rasim (1688–1756) and Yahya Fahreddin (d. 1756) composed jali thuluth works that followed a similar vein. But in the second half of the eighteenth century, one Captain Mehmed from Ünye brought two sons to Istanbul when they were very young; these brothers shaped the hüsn-i hat for that century. Ismail Efendi (d. 1806), who used the pseudonym Zühdî (Picture 12), trained his brother Mustafa, the greatest representative of calligraphic art in that era, in the style of Hafız Osman in thuluth and naskh calligraphy. Mustafa took the pseudonym Râkım, and received his thuluth-naskh icazet at the age of twelve.

18- A <em>thuluth</em> naskh style couplet written by Sultan Abdülmecid

19- A page from the Qur’an written by Qadiasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi in <em>naskh</em> style

Mustafa Râkım (1758–1826) also worked on Western-style paintings and, by applying the most beautiful thuluth script in the muraqqaa works of Hafız Osman to the jali thuluth , his exquisite taste and exceptional skill helped to create unique jali thuluth inscriptions (Picture 13), epigraphs (Picture 14), and bands of calligraphy (Picture 1). Thus, it has become customary to categorize hüsn-i hat as “before Râkım” and “after Râkım.”

While discussing the work of Râkım, the tuğra (sultan’s seal) must be discussed; this artistic genius achieved great success using jali thuluth in tuğras (Picture 44); at the same time, it should be mentioned that Râkım was greatly appreciated by his student Sultan Mahmud II (1785–1839). The earliest and most basic examples of the tuğra belong to Orhan Gazi and are dated 1324. Over time, by the beginning of the nineteenth century (during the reign of Sultan Selim III), this art form reached its zenith, again through the masterly work of Râkım, in Istanbul. It was elevated to its highest form by Sami Efendi (1838–1912) (Picture 25). Additionally, it should be noted that the elegant tuğra of such Ottoman sultans as Süleyman I, Selim II, and Murad III, created on both paper and leather, reflect the majesty of the sixteenth century (Picture 16).

To return to the issue of jali thuluth, after the death of Mustafa Râkım, his two outstanding students Haşim (d. 1845) and Recai Şakir (1804–1874) pursued the same jali style in their artistic lives. However, Mahmud Celaleddin (d. 1829)—a calligraphy master from Daghestan who learned calligraphy in Istanbul—followed in the footsteps of the shaykh and Hafız Osman in thuluth-naskh. He created a stronger line with extremely solid and dignified jali thuluth, using lines as thin as possible for the hareke signs (Picture 17). Sultan Abdülmecid’s (1823–1861) interest in this style (Picture 18) created new interest; but this was only for one generation, and then this style fell into oblivion.

The nineteenth century was the golden age of the forms of aklam-i sitte (thuluth, naskh, and riqa‘) that were in circulation. In this century, Kadıasker Mustafa İzzet (1801–1876, Picture 19, 20) and Mehmed Şevkî (1829–1887) came from the provinces to Istanbul; these men and are among the unforgettable masters, and they and their students continue to be held in great esteem today. In particular, the Şevkî style still occupies an important place in Turkish calligraphy, even in the twenty-first century (Picture 21-22). Among the people taught by Kadıasker, Şefik Bey (1820–1880) comes to the fore, particularly in jali thuluth (Picture 23).

20- A <em>jali thuluth</em> style board written by Qadiasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi

21- A <em>jali thuluth</em> style hilya board written by Mehmed Şevki Efendi

22- Mehmed Şevki Efendi’s <em>thuluth</em> naskh writing exercise (such exercises are done by the calligraphers to keep their hands writing)

The last names to have cemented the place of the Râkım style of jali thuluth were Sami Efendi (Picture 24) and his student Hacı Nazif Bey (1846–1913, Picture 26). Throughout his life, Çarşambalı Hancı Arif Bey (d. 1892, Picture 27) walked side by side with Sami Efendi. Even today, jali thuluth is practiced based on the Sami Efendi style. A twelve-line poem, dated 1074/1664, was rewritten by Sami Efendi in 1325/1907 for the sebil (public fountain) in Yeni Mosque in Bahçekapı; ever since, this inscription has acted as a guide for all jali thuluth calligraphers (Picture 24).

The nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century were periods in which Ottoman hüsn-i hat attained perfection. The greatest names of the era, listed with their works, should be in the following order: Şefik Bey’s student Hasan Rıza Efendi (1849–1920, Picture 28), famous for his Qur’an; Hacı Kâmil Akdik (1861–1941, Picture 29), who had the title reisülhattâtîn (chief calligrapher); İsmail Hakkı Altunbezer (1873–1946, Picture 30), the final tuğrakeş (tuğra artist) of the Ottoman era; Hatip Ömer Vasfi (1880–1928, Picture 31); Neyzen Emin Yazıcı (1883–1945, Picture 32); Mâcid Ayral (1891–1961, Picture 33); Hâmid Aytaç (1891–1982, Picture 34); and Halim Özyazıcı (1898–1964, Picture 35). May Allah’s compassion be with them, and with the other calligraphers not mentioned here.

Other Calligraphy Styles Used in Istanbul

23- The <em>jali thuluth</em> inscription of Mehmed Şefik Bey on the central building of Istanbul University

24- The <em>jali thuluth</em> inscription of Sami Efendi on the fountain of New Mosque

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, nasta‘lîk calligraphy, a form of kadîm ta‘lîk calligraphy, emerged in Iran; due to the simplicity of this style, it soon found its way to Anatolia, and in the sixteenth century found its way to Istanbul as a new writing style. But this style of calligraphy was generally referred to as ta‘lîk; a more delicate form was adopted by Bâb-ı Fetva and known as hurde. Not only was this used to record legal decisions, this style of calligraphy was also used for the divans of poets. In the middle of the seventeenth century, the iİmâd al-Hasani (d. 1615) style of Iranian nasta‘lîk came to Istanbul via Hasani’s disciple Buharalı Derviş Abdi (d. 1647) and quickly gained importance there. This style continued to be used in books and inscriptions. Although used in Istanbul by Ottoman-Turkish calligraphers, these works are known as the Imâd-ı Rûm (Rumelia Imad) because they remained faithful to the Imad style. The first calligraphers who used this style were Tophaneli Mahmud (d. 1669), Siyâhî Ahmed (d. 1688), Durmuşzade Ahmed (d. 1717), Hekimbaşı Kâtibzade Mehmed Refi‘ (d. 1768), Sheikh al-Islam Veliyüddin (d. 1768, Picture 36), and Dedezade Mehmed Said (d. 1759).

Almost 150 years after the Derviş Abdi period, Mehmed Esad Efendi (d. 1798) was born. He was paralyzed on the right side from birth, and was only able to write with his left hand, thus resulting in his nickname Yesârî (meaning “left-handed”) (Picture 37). Similar to the way in which the Sheikh and Hafız Osman could bring out the natural beauty of the calligraphy via the “eye of the heart,” Yesârî started to create works of a different style from 1775; he selected the Imad letters that appealed to Ottoman taste, thus leaving an Ottoman mark on ta‘lîk/jali ta‘lîk calligraphy. In this respect, Yesârî’s artistic life was a quest; his greatest work was his son and student, Yesârîzade Mustafa İzzet Efendi (d. 1849), who completed his father’s mission and dedicated his life to jali ta‘lîk calligraphy. Yesârîzade Mustafa İzzet Efendi created many perfect compositions (Picture 38) and bequeathed hundreds of inscriptions to Istanbul. At the same time, he also used the ta‘lîk style for a hilye (description of Prophet Muhammad) (Picture 39). Sami Efendi, Çarşambalı Hacı Arif, and Hacı Nazif (Picture 41), who are mentioned in the jali thuluth section, are the greatest representatives of their time for the Yesârîzade style in jali ta‘lîk; they composed many elegant compositions and inscriptions in Istanbul. Two examples of ta‘lîk students of Sâmi Efendi are Hulûsi Yazgan (1869–1940, Picture 42) and Necmeddin Okyay (1883–1976, Picture 43).

Kadîm ta‘lîk calligraphy was a result of variations made to tawqi‘ and riqa‘ calligraphy in Iran; this style was used by the munshi (sultan’s secretary) in Islamic states for official correspondence. One of these states, the Aq Qoyunlu were defeated by the Ottomans in the Battle of Otlukbeli in 1473. Sultan Mehmed II brought artists from Uzun Hasan’s palace in Istanbul. As a result, kadîm ta‘lîk calligraphy underwent great changes. At the end of the fifteenth century, a new writing style known as diwani/dîvânî emerged. Until that time, official records from the Divan-ı Hümayun had been written in tawqi‘ or riqa‘ calligraphy, but this new writing style quickly added different characters with a more intricate structure, and a canal-like appearance to the spaces between the lines. This new style, known as jali diwani (Picture 16), continued to develop diwani calligraphy until the twentieth century; this was a style that was unique to official correspondence in Istanbul. Artistic compositions were rarely written in jali diwani calligraphy, either before or after the abolition of the sultanate. The kırma style of calligraphy created a simplification in the diwani records and can frequently be seen, even in the records of the Sublime Porte. Siyâkat was not an artistic style of calligraphy, and was used for treasury and land registrations.

25-Sami Efendi’s inscription of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s sultanate signature over the gate of Grand Bazaar

26- The <em>jali thuluth</em> board of Hacı Nazif Bey

27- Çarşambalı Hacı Arif Bey’s <em>jali thuluth</em> pattern which he wrote by orpiment

Riqa‘ calligraphy was likely also a result of the dîvânî kırması, and over time created a transition to two different styles of writing. This style was used in daily correspondence on a comprehensive scale. Not using some parts of the letters and writing the letters very rapidly was something that was introduced with the Sublime Porte riqa‘, and in the Mümtaz Efendi (d. 1872) riqa‘ that was a derivative of this style. A more careful style that was executed with less haste is known as the İzzet Efendi (d. 1903) riqa‘. As both styles were primarily used in manuscripts, they were not often applied in artistic compositions. But at the end of the nineteenth century, they were used on some inscriptions on gravestones.

Calligraphy Collections in Istanbul

For centuries, a great number of hüsn-i hat works in Istanbul were lost as the result of major earthquakes or, more commonly, to the huge fires that periodically engulfed the city. Such fires spread easily, as the civilian architecture was based on wooden housing. It is not easy to estimate what percentage of written works from the past has reached us today.

28- A <em>muhaqqaq</em>, <em>thuluth</em>, and <em>naskh</em> style hilya board written by Mehmed Şevki Efendi

29- A <em>thuluth naskh</em> style double couplet written by Hacı Kamil Akdik

It is not possible to determine the identity of the collectors of calligraphy who lived in Istanbul in earlier centuries. But from old tereke (estate records), we can see that some statesmen kept mushaf (copies of the Qur’an), kıt‘a (poetic stanzas), and muraqqaa in their houses. We have some information about the Dârüssaâde agha and calligrapher Beşir Agha (d. 1752), who had an extensive collection.4 Some works, for example a hilye-i saâdet, could be found in every mansion or wealthy residence in Istanbul, particularly at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when jali thuluth and jali ta‘lîk had completed their development. It is also known that most calligraphers tried to collect the works of great masters. For example, the names of the students of one of the famous nineteenth-century calligraphers, Kadıasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi, included Muhsinzade Abdullah Hamdi Bey (d. 1899), Mehmed Şevki Efendi, Sami Efendi, Haydarlı Ali Efendi (d. 1902), Hacı Kâmil Akdik (d. 1941), and Abdülfettah Efendi (d. 1896), the last of whom was especially interested in Râkım’s work. The interest of Ottoman pashas, their scions, and the ulema—such as Said Halim Pasha, Debreli Ismail Pasha, Keçecizade Reşad Fuad Bey, Bakizade Müfid (Mansel) Bey, Hacı Vesim Paşazade Lütfi Bey, Sahib Molla Beyefendi, and Dersvekili Halis Bey—is also evident from their collections. The director of the Beyazıt Library, Hattat Tahsin Efendi (d. 1914) also had a great calligraphy collection. Some of the other important collectors of the twentieth century are Necmeddin Okyay, Muhiddin Benli, Izzet Akosman, Hasan Fehmi Enata, Ekrem Hakkı Ayverdi, Halil Edhem Arda, Şevket Rado, and Emin Barın.

Here, I would like to examine the collections found in palaces, waqfs, and official offices. In order to prevent the disappearance of existing moveable works from religious buildings, such as mosques, masjids, tekkes, and waqf libraries, the first serious official implementation was introduced with the establishment of the Evkâf-ı İslamiye (Islamic Waqfs) Museum in Süleymaniye (27 April 1914); at this time, the office of minister of waqfs was held by Sheikh al-Islam Hayri Efendi (1867–1921). The museum was later renamed the Türk ve Islam Eserleri (Turkish and Islamic Works) Museum during the republican period (1927).

The most important official collection of calligraphy is the collection from various libraries that was brought to Topkapı Palace Museum in 1924. Primarily, copies of the Holy Qur’an (the entire text, and every cüz), books such as Delâilü’l-hayrât, Evrâd-ı Şerîfe, Dîvân, examples of kıt‘a, tûmâr, muraqqaa, plaques, hilyes, inscriptions, and many other distinguished calligraphic works can be found in this collection. Many priceless books purchased from Istanbul in the nineteenth century were supplemented with new purchases; in this way, the Yıldız Palace Library was established. When the Hareket army arrived in Istanbul, this unique library was protected thanks to the personal efforts of the librarian Sabri (Kalkandelen) Efendi (1862–1943). The library was affiliated with the Istanbul Darülfünun in 1925 and moved to the Mekteb-i Nüvvab on the Beyazıt–Süleymaniye Road. The book and muraqqaa-based library is like a larger section of Topkapı Palace Museum Library.

30- The twofold <em>jali thuluth</em> inscription of Hatip Ömer Vasfi over the gate of thetomb of Sultan Reşad

31- The <em>jali thuluth</em> gilded board of Tuğrakeş İsmail Hakkı Altunbezer

In 1918, the books that were housed in a number of neglected waqf libraries in Istanbul were brought together in the Süleymaniye Library, part of the Süleymaniye Madrasa; this collection includes manuscripts and books, with a great number of works dedicated to calligraphy.

The Türk Vakıf Hat Sanatları (Turkish Calligraphy Art) Museum was established in 1969 to bring together calligraphy works belonging to waqfs in Istanbul; this institution still continues its work in Beyazıt Madrasa.

The museum in Emirgan, designed and built by the businessman Sakıp Sabancı (1933–2004), was established in the last years of the twentieth century; there, works of calligraphy and paintings are on display. The display opportunities are used in the most developed way possible, and, since 1998, some of the calligraphy collection has been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Paris, Berlin, and Frankfurt, thus bringing Ottoman calligraphy to the world.

However, in keeping with the saying “The Qur’an is written in Istanbul,” it is high time that the government establishes an Istanbul Calligraphy Museum in which calligraphic works are properly displayed; Istanbul deserves no less.

Samples of Fixed Calligraphy and Inscriptions in Istanbul

Among the many works of calligraphy produced over the past five centuries or more, the inscriptions that grace the facades of Istanbul’s historical buildings and proclaim the identities of the structures that bear them are particularly worthy of note. These inscriptions were written by the poets of the era, generally in verse and dated according to the ebced calculation,5 and were transformed with the hüsn-i hat of calligraphy masters and engraved in stone by stonemasons. Once the work was completed, the background would be given a dark tint, such as dark green, black, purple, or brown, thus causing the work to stand out in magnificent relief. However, during restoration, these inscriptions were frequently not taken into consideration, and the gilding that once caused them to sand out from their marble backdrop is often no longer visible. Verses from the Qur’an or hadith written over the exterior doors or windows of the building can also, in general terms, be included among these inscriptions. Since the time of the Conquest, not all inscriptions in Istanbul have been written in hüsn-i hat. There are some very unaesthetic examples. Not every inscription carries the signature of the artist, but sometimes we can understand who the master was from the style. Books on calligraphy history list the calligraphers of certain inscriptions.

32- A <em>jali thuluth</em> style stacked (istifli) board written by Neyzen Emin Yazıcı

33- A <em>jali thuluth</em> style board written by Macid Ayral

34- A <em>jali thuluth</em> style inscription in Şişli Mosque written by Hamid Aytaç

At first, inscriptions were written in Arabic, in jali thuluth ; however, over time, Ottoman Turkish and jali ta‘lîk without hareke came to the fore. Here, I would like to discuss the inscriptions and fixed works from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries whose artists are known. I will then move on to inscriptions from more recent periods.

The first signed works in Istanbul belong to Alî Mürîd al-Sûfî.6 These can be seen over the main entrance of Fatih Mosque (875/1470) and over the Bâb-ı Hümâyun (883/1478). The first of these was written in jali thuluth , while the second was again in jali thuluth , but written as a müsenna,7 with the bottom section being level. The inscription over the Bâb-ı Hümâyun is a masterpiece that has managed to survive over the centuries (Picture 44).

Many examples of calligraphy do not include a signature; another inscription by the same artist, of Sura Fatiha, can be seen over the window pediments in the courtyard of Fatih Mosque. This inscription was created in an embossed method on marble, using jali thuluth ; in addition, the inscription of Ayat al-Kursi on the tiles over the windows in the interior in a mixture of kûfi and jali thuluth . These were created by Yahya Sûfî (d. 1477, Picture 45), Ali Sûfî’s father, and were probably written in 1471. Portions of these survived the 1766 earthquake.

The jali thuluth inscriptions found on Beyazıt Mosque (911/1505), Davut Paşa Mosque (890/1485), and Firuz Ağa Mosque (896/1490), built during the era of Sultan Bayezid II, although unsigned, are stated in the sources as belonging to Sheikh Hamdullah (Picture 3).

The custom of placing the sultan’s signature on Istanbul inscriptions began in the era of Sultan Ahmed III (Büyük Bend inscription, 1135/1722). Unusually, Mehmed Pasha, a nişancı (head of the sultan’s scribes, responsible for affixing his tuğra) from the era of Sultan Murad III, had the sultan’s tuğra placed on the portal of Fatih/Çarşamba Mosque, which he had had built by Mimar Sinan to please the sultan. The earliest example of a tuğra being included in an inscription in Istanbul is that of Sultan I Mahmud’s tuğra, found on the door to Karaköy Yeraltı Mosque and the tophane (arsenal) in Tophane.

35- Haşim Özyazıcı’s <em>jali thuluth</em> calligraphy over the dome of Şişli Mosque

36- Şeyhülislam Veliyyüddin Efendi’s <em>ta’liq</em> writing exercise

Among the works built by Mimar Sinan, there are three mosques that include inscriptions by known calligraphers. The first is Süleymaniye, the inscriptions on the dome of which are said to be by Ahmed Karahisarî. During a nineteenth-century restoration, the inscriptions on the dome and other examples were re-written by Abdülfettah Efendi (1816–1896). However, the jali thuluth on the tiles and the epigraph of the mosque by the mihrab (964/1557) and the inscriptions around this area were created by Karahisarî’s student Hasan Çelebi. The second is the Atik Valide Mosque, whose tiles bear jali thuluth inscriptions by Hasan Üsküdarî (d. 1614). The third is the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque in Tophane, which has jali thuluth examples by Demircikulu Yusuf Efendi (d. 1611) on its interior and exterior. Karahisarî also introduced his unique identity to the Uşşakî Dergâhı fountain in Samatya. Known as “Karahisarî Dervişi,” Derviş Mehmed’s (d. 1592) signed inscription on the Büyükçekmece Bridge is worth mentioning (975/1567).

The sixteenth century was the greatest era not only for architecture, but also for tiles. There are noteworthy examples of calligraphic inscriptions in tile in the interior of the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, the Mesih Paşa Mosque, and especially the Şehit Mehmed Paşa (Sokollu) Mosque on Kadırga Road, though it is not known which calligraphers made them. In addition to the bands of tiles bearing jali thuluth inscriptions in the mausoleums of sixteenth-century sultans and grand viziers, the jali muhaqqaqi section of the tile band in the Şehzade Mehmet Mausoleum is a unique example of calligraphy work in Istanbul.

After this general introduction to calligraphy, encompassing works up to the end fof the sixteenth century, I would now like to list some of the fixed and major inscriptions created by Istanbul calligraphers (the birth and death dates of the calligraphers mentioned above will not be given again).

Abdülfettah Efendi (18151896): Süleymaniye Mosque, inscriptions in the interior; Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque inscriptions ( jali thuluth ); inscriptions on Sirkeci Demirkapı Mosque, Yıldız/Ertuğrul Fountain, Taşkışla (barracks), Aksaray Valide Mosque, and Beykoz/Hazreti Yuşa Mosque; in addition, inscriptions in the interior of Beylerbeyi Palace (jali ta‘lik).

Ahmed Arif (Filibeli Bakkal) (18361909): Şehzade Mosque ( jali thuluth ).

Alaeddin Bey (18441888): inscription on Orhaniye Barracks, Orhaniye Mosque, interior inscriptions in Sinan Paşa Mosque ( jali thuluth ; the latter was destroyed during the latest restoration).

Ali Haydar Bey (18021870): Dolmabahçe and Ortaköy Büyük Mecidiye Mosques, Selimiye Barracks, Kasımpaşa Mevlevîhane, Kabataş Monument (jali ta‘lik).

Bursalı Hezarfen Mehmed Efendi (d. 1740): inscriptions in Üsküdar Yeni Valide Mosque and Mausoleum ( jali thuluth ); inscription on Ahmed III Fountain in Sultanahmet (jali ta‘lik).

Çarşambalı Hacı Arif Bey (d. 1892): inscriptions on the Aksaray Valide and Gedikpaşa Mosques (jali ta‘lik).

Durmuşzade Ahmed Efendi (d. 1717): inscriptions on Üsküdar Yeni Valide Fountain, Kaptan İbrahim Paşa Mosque and Fountain (on the BeyazıtSüleymaniye road), Çorlulu Ali Paşa Darülhadisi (Çarşıkapı), Feyzullah Efendi Madrasa (now a state library) (jali ta‘lik).

Eğrikapılı Rasim Efendi (16881756): Nuruosmaniye Mosque and inscription on the Saliha Sultan Fountain ( jali thuluth ).

Hacı Nazif Bey (18461913): Orhaniye Barracks, Yıldız Clock Tower (jali ta‘lik, Picture 41), Matbaa-i Askeriye epigraphs in Süleymaniye ( jali thuluth ).

Halim Özyazıcı (18981964): Sultan Selim Mosque, Şişli Mosque (Picture 35), Azabkapı Mosque, Şehid Mehmed Paşa Mosque in Kadırga, Beyoğlu Ağa Mosque (this inscription was destroyed twenty years ago) ( jali thuluth ).

Hamid Aytaç (18911982): Şişli Mosque (Picture 34), Eyüp Mosque, Molla Çelebi Mosque, dome of Sultan Murat III Pavilion, Hacı Küçük Mosque (the inscription on this mosque was destroyed during restoration) ( jali thuluth ).

Hasan Rıza Efendi (18491920): inscriptions on Alman Sefarethane Fountain ( jali thuluth ), Beyazıt Public Library (jali ta‘lik), Şişli Hürriyet-i Ebediye Monument ( jali thuluth ).

Haşim Efendi (d. 1845): Sultan Mahmut II Mausoleum ( jali thuluth ).

Hatib Ömer Vasfi (d. 1928): exterior of Sultan Reşad Mausoleum (Picture 31) and interior inscriptions; Kısıklı Mosque and Fountain ( jali thuluth ).

İsmail Hakkı (Altunbezer, Tuğrakeş) (1873–1946): Kamer Hatun Mosque, Ağa Mosque, Bebek Mosque, Bostancı Mosque, Üsküdar Şemsi Paşa Mosque, Edirnekapı Mihrimah Mosque, Erenköy Fountain ( jali thuluth ).

37- A <em>ta’liq</em> style couplet written by Mehmed Esad Yesari

İsmail Zühdi (Eski) (d. 1731): inscription on Ahırkapı ( jali thuluth ).

İsmail Zühdi (Yeni) (d. 1806): inscriptions on Şah Sultan Mausoleum in Eyüp ( jali thuluth ).

Kadıasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi: dome and mosque inscriptions in Hagia Sophia, Kasımpaşa Büyük Mosque, Bâbıâli Nallı Masjid, Hırka-i Şerîf Mosque ( jali thuluth ), Dolmabahçe Palace, Çırağan/Küçük Mecidiye Mosque, Mercan Âli Paşa Mosque, Kadıköy İskele Mosque, Hırka-i Şerîf Mosque, and Selimiye Barracks (side entrance); inscriptions on rear arch of Istanbul University; inscriptions in Hagia Sophia (jali ta‘lik).

Kâmil Akdik (d. 1941): two inscriptions on the domes in Topkapı Palace ( jali thuluth ).

Kâtibzade Mehmed Refi‘ (Reisületıbba) (d. 1769): inscriptions on Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa Fountain; Nuruosmaniye Madrasa (jali ta‘lik).

Kebecizade Mehmed Vasfi (d. 1831): inscriptions on Laleli Mosque ( jali thuluth ).

Macid Ayral (18911961): Levent Mosque, Şişli Mosque, Yeşilköy Seyyid Ahmet Mosque ( jali thuluth ).

Mahmud Celaleddin (d. 1829): inscriptions on Mihrişah Sultan Mausoleum, Eyüp ( jali thuluth ).

Muhsinzade Abdullah Hamdi Bey (Reisülhattâtîn) (18321899): inscription on Hacı Küçük Mosque ( jali thuluth ).

Mustafa Râkım: Fatih Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, portals to the exterior portion of Fatih Mosque and fountain, inscriptions in Nusretiye Mosque ( jali thuluth ); Üsküdar Miskinler Fountain (jali ta‘lik).

Necmeddin Okyay (Hezarfen) (18831976): inscription, Piyer Loti, Çemberlitaş (jali ta‘lik).

Rasim Efendi (d. 1885): inscription on Altunizade Mosque (jali ta‘lik).

Sami Efendi (18381912): Erenköy Zihni Paşa Mosque, Galip Paşa Mosque, and inscriptions in the Grand Bazaar (jali ta‘lik and tuğra, Picture 25); Şehzade, Nallımescit, and Atik Ali Paşa Mosques; Eminönü Yeni Valide Fountain ( jali thuluth ).

Sultan Abdülmecid (18231861): Dolmabahçe Mosque, Büyük Mecidiye Mosque and Küçük Mecidiye Mosque in Ortaköy, Hırka-i Şerif Mosque, Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.

38- Yesarizade Mustafa İzzet Efendi’s <em>ta’liq</em> hilya

39- The <em>jali ta’liq</em> gilded board of Yesarizade Mustafa İzzet Efendi

Sultan Mahmud II (17851839): interior inscriptions in Bahçekapısı Hidayet Mosque ( jali thuluth ).

Sultan Ahmed III (16731736): Inscriptions on fountains in Üsküdar, Sultanahmet, and in the Topkapı Palace Hırka-ı Saadet Apartments (Picture 11) ( jali thuluth ).

Şefik Bey (18201880): Dâire-i Umûr-ı Askeriye (today’s Istanbul University) (Picture 23), four verses along the sides and on the rear; inscription in Sultan Abdülmecid Mausoleum ( jali thuluth ; this last inscription was destroyed during restoration).

Teknecizade İbrahim Efendi (seventeenth century): Eminönü Yeni Valide Mosque and along the path to the sultan’s galley ( jali thuluth ).

Veliyüddin Efendi (Shaykh al-Islam) (d. 1769): Üsküdar Ayazma Mosque, Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa Mosque and Fountain, inscriptions in Hagia Sophia (jali ta‘lik).

Yahya Fahreddin Efendi (d. 1756): inscriptions in Tophane-i Âmire and Atıf Efendi Library in Vefa ( jali thuluth ).

Yesârî Mehmed Esad Efendi: interior inscriptions in Topkapı Palace, Fatih Mausoleum, interior and exterior inscriptions for Aynalıkavak Manor, Beylerbeyi Mosque, Emirgân Mosque and Fountain, Eyüp Mihrişah Sultan Mosque (jali ta‘lik).

Yesârîzade Mustafa İzzet Efendi: despite being lost due to destruction, some examples from the great master of jali ta‘lik calligraphy remain: inscriptions in the interior of Topkapı Palace, on the Sublime Porte, Alay Pavilion, Beyazıt Fire Tower, Beylerbeyi Mosque Clock-room, Nusretiye Fountain, Sünbül Efendi Mosque, Üsküdar Çiçekçi Mosque, Eminönü Arpacılar Mosque and Hidayet Mosque, Maltepe Barracks.

40- The <em>jali ta’liq</em> gilded board of Sami Efendi

41- Haci Nazif Bey’s <em>jali ta’liq</em> inscription on Yıldız Clock Tower

Until the 1960s, it was possible to see inscriptions from the Ottoman era on graves in a number of Istanbul cemeteries; these are important for calligraphy. However, from the 1960s, the number of historical inscriptions started to disappear as new graves were made, although important old inscriptions can still be seen in mosques and mausoleums. Some of these cemeteries have lost their original character due to recent burials that include gravestones with Latin inscriptions (the Fatih, Süleymaniye, Köprülü, and Sultan Mahmud mausoleums, among others). In the mausoleums mentioned above, jali inscriptions can be found on headstones that were made in the nineteenth century; in addition, the jali thuluth inscription by Mustafa Râkım, written for his brother İsmail Zühdî, can be found in Edirnekapı Cemetery, while one he wrote for Çelebi Mustafa Reşid Efendi is in the cemetery of Eyüp Sultan Mosque. The primary calligraphy works that should be remembered are as follows: a jali thuluth epigraph written by Muhsinzade Abdullah Hamdi Bey for Kadıasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi’s grave in Kâdirîhane, Tophane; some of Sami Efendi’s epigraphs in the cemetery of Eyüp Sultan Mosque; a jali ta‘lik inscription by Hulusi Yazgan (18691940) on Ahmed Nazif Pasha’s grave in the cemetery of Fatih Mosque; a jali ta‘lik inscription written by Hacı Nazif Bey for Saadet Hanım, the daughter of Sami Efendi; the inscriptions for Yesârî and his son in jali ta‘lik in the same cemetery; Hacı Kâmil Efendi’s jali thuluth inscription for Sami Efendi; and Hatib Ömer Vasfi Efendi’s jali thuluth inscription for Türbedar Ahmed Amiş Efendi.

A form of inscription that is unique to Istanbul is the nişan taşı (marking stone). Until 1950, the stones could be found in Okmeydanı, where they indicated the distance that successful archers had shot their arrows; poems marking the date were artistically engraved on these stones. When squatters came to the area and built houses here, the nişan taşıs disappeared; the last ones were used to dry clothes. A few samples of Yesârî’s or Yesârîzade’s nişan taşıs, erected for performance in musketry and written in jali ta‘lîk calligraphy, can be found on the Ihlamur hill and in the courtyard of Teşvikiye Mosque.

Calligraphy after the Republic

In terms of stone engraving, calligraphy in Istanbul suffered its greatest blow when the Law 1057 on the Removal of Seals and Eulogies (Tuğra ve Medhiyelerin Kaldırılması) was enacted by the Turkish Parliament on 28 May 1927. As a result of persistent “Ottomanophobia,” best represented by the member of parliament Ekrem Rize, all the tuğra and inscriptions from the Ottoman era were removed from buildings that were used for national and government offices in the republic; if removal was not possible, these inscriptions were to be covered. To comply with the law, many inscriptions were removed by being carved out of the stone. A large number of inscriptions and tuğra were thus lost, and apart from losing important works in hüsn-i hat, this measure had a negative effect on Istanbul’s historical features.

Soon after this vandalism occurred, the alphabet reform of 1928 meant that, overnight, the citizens of the new Turkish republic had become illiterate in their own language, at least as far as the Ottoman works were concern; they did not know how to protect their calligraphic works, and were even disturbed by the presence of writing they could no longer understood. Calligraphy workshops in the Sublime Porte were quickly closed, calligraphic works that were not protected by the government were scattered. Necmeddin Okyay (1883–1976), a calligraphy expert from the last period, described the 1930s as “years in which we were afraid to call ourselves calligraphers.”

Calligraphy Education in Istanbul

The majority of calligraphy masters in Istanbul approached calligraphy with as a form of art; this was responsible for the excellent calligraphy education in Istanbul. Rural areas hoping for a similar level of education were dependent on being able to secure the appointment of an Istanbul-trained calligrapher, whose performance, in turn, would have corresponded to the interest displayed by the inhabitants of the city. In fact, at the local level, the benefits of future of education in calligraphy could only be ensured when the children were keen to learn the skills of calligraphy.

42- The <em>jali ta’liq</em> board of Hulusi Yazgan

When a young person who was enthusiastic about calligraphy applied to a calligraphy master, he would be accepted for no fee, if circumstances allowed; the house of an Istanbul calligrapher would operate as a meşkhane, or school. Apart from this, talented pupils who were educated in the schools of Enderun or Galatasaray, or other institutions that operated in the nature of a university, practiced with calligraphy masters and, with their work, would earn the right to work as a calligrapher.

Young calligraphers were trained by masters in some of the Istanbul madrasas that included teaching calligraphy as part of their waqfiyya (waqf deeds). Madrasa chambers dedicated to this purpose were known as hat odası, meşk odası, or meşkhane. There is no clear information about the tutors in these chambers. For example, Abdullah Zühdi and then Filibeli (Bakkal) Hacı Arif Efendi are known to have worked during the nineteenth century at the Nuruosmaniye Madrasa; Sami Efendi was known to have practiced calligraphy for years in today’s ruined Karamustafapaşa Madrasa in Çarşıkapısı. Hacı Ârif Efendi’s distinguished disciple Aziz Aktuğ (1871–1934) spent more than ten years teaching Istanbul calligraphy in Cairo, not in Istanbul.

While Hayri Efendi was minister of waqfs, on 20 May 1915 an institute called Medresetü’l-Hattâtîn (Calligraphers’ Madrasa) was opened as part of the primary school established by the tersane emini (head of the shipyard) Yusuf Agha in the Sublime Porte; this institution was established to teach calligraphy and related book arts in Istanbul with a certain methodology. This institution provided an opportunity for skilled young artists during a time when the Ottoman Empire was declining in all aspects, and also during the republican period, and it formed a basis from which exquisite works were produced. However, with the Tevhid-i Tedrisat Kanunu (Law on the Unification of Education) on 3 March 1924, the madrasas were abolished. Because this institute was referred to as a madrasa, it shared the same fate. Eight months later, the same unique institution was reopened under a new name as the Hattat Mektebi (Calligraphers School); however, this was closed in 1928 due to the alphabet reform. With the stipulation that education in calligraphy was not to be given, the institution was opened again as the Şark Tezyinî Sanatlar Mektebi (School of Oriental Decorative Arts) in 1929.

In the middle of the 1930s, the Şark Tezyinî Sanatlar Mektebi was attached to the Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi (Academy of Fine Arts, GSA). After this, education in calligraphy was transferred to Çankaya in the summer of 1936. Salah Cimcoz (1877–1947), a member of parliament from Istanbul and a collector of calligraphy, stressed the importance of calligraphy with the following words: “Calligraphy is one of the greatest arts from the past. Indeed, I can look at a painting by Raphael and a work of calligraphy by Sheikh Hamdullah with equal pleasure. When the restoration of such works is necessary, will we have to bring experts from abroad?” As a result, the decision that “Arabic letters should also be taught in ornamental composition” was taken when the minister of education visited the GSA.

The Şark Tezyinî Sanatlar Mektebi merged with the GSA in 1936, and hüsn-i hat lessons were added to the curriculum. The calligraphy master Kâmil Akdik and Hacı Nuri Korman (1868–1951) worked in the new Türk Tezyinî Sanatları (Turkish Decorative Arts) Section of the academy. After a short time, the General Directorate of Waqfs commissioned the calligraphers of the era to restore the mosques from the classical era; Tuğrakeş Ismail Hakkı Altunbezer, Halim Özyazıcı, and Hâmid Aytaç worked on these mosques.

However, as time passed, the interest of the new generation in calligraphy waned, and no new calligraphers were trained. Young people who selected such a profession essentially condemned themselves to poverty, as no one ordered calligraphy works anymore. Even the greatest calligraphers of the Ottoman state were unable to make money in this period. Calligraphers who had been trained in the Ottoman era but were living in the republican era—like Tuğrakeş Ismail Hakkı Altunbezer, Hulusi Yazgan, Necmeddin Okyay, Emin Yazıcı, Macid Ayral, and Halim Özyazıcı—could no longer earn a living, as their works were no longer in demand. From this same group, Hâmid Aytaç managed to stay in the Sublime Porte, working with stereotypes and other new printing technologies. Halim Özyazıcı, a magnificent calligrapher of the twentieth century, worked as a hüsn-i hat master in the academy between 1946 and 1963, when he reached mandatory retirement age. He attempted to train some students, but none reached the desired level. In the 1950s, Necmeddin Okyay trained four to five students, but they had no expectations of being able to earn a living from practicing their art. Macid Ayral went to Baghdad as a calligraphy master and tried to make an impact there for four years. In short, the Ottoman masters of calligraphy who lived during the early republic left this world in desperation.

However, toward the end of the 1960s, a few young people showed interest in calligraphy; the Ottoman artist Hamid Aytaç taught them as much as he could. His students continued to practice with the younger generation. Beginning from the 1980s, education in calligraphy spread rapidly. Since 1980, the Islâm Tarih Sanat ve Kültür Araştırma Merkezi (Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture) has been operating in Istanbul; since 1986, this institute has held a competition in calligraphy every three years, thus encouraging novice calligraphers and the art of calligraphy. Today, students follow in the steps of Mehmed Şevki in carrying out thuluth, naskh, and riqa‘ calligraphy, the ideal Istanbul calligraphy; they follow in the steps of Sami Efendi in jali thuluth , jali ta‘lik, and jali diwani. However, if the hiatus in calligraphy after 1928 had not occurred, calligraphy today would be far more advanced.

Today, it is with pleasure that we witness a new generation of calligraphers who can earn a living from their art; this was not something that could have been envisaged forty years ago. These calligraphers remain to be evaluated at a later date.

43- The <em>jali ta’liq</em> board of Necmeddin Okyay

44- The twofold <em>jali thuluth</em> inscription of Ali Sufi over Bab-ı Hümayun (The gate to the first yard of Topkapı Palace): below is Sultan Mahmud II’s sultanate signature written by Rakım

Istanbul Studies on Calligraphy and Calligraphers

Istanbul is a city that is important for its valuable books on calligraphy and calligraphers. The first book on this subject is Menâkıb-ı Hünerverân (995/1587), written by Gelibolulu Mustafa Âli Efendi (d. 1600). Later, in chronological order, other such works include Nefeszade Ibrahim Efendi’s (d. 1650) Gülzâr-ı Savâb, Suyolcuzade Mehmed Necib Efendi’s (d. 1758) Devhatü’l-küttâb (1150/1737), and Müstakimzade Süleyman Sadeddin Efendi’s (d. 1788) Tuhfe-i Hattâtîn (1184/1770).

But in respect of content, the supreme source is Tuhfe-i Hattâtîn; this work, along with other important sources, were placed on the library shelves in the Ottoman era; in Istanbul, priority was given to publishing Hatt u Hattâtân, written by Iranian Mîrzâ Habîb Efendi (1835–1894), a work that, to a large extent, was adapted from Tuhfe (1888). After this date, Istanbul provided Turkish culture with Menâkıb-ı Hünerverân in 1926, Tuhfe-i Hattâtîn in 1928, Gülzâr-ı Savâb in 1938, and Devhatü’l-küttâb in 1942. A comprehensive work on the same subject under the name Son Hattatlar, written by İbnülemin Mahmud Kemâl İnal (1871–1957), was published in Istanbul in 1955. Apart from Medeniyet Âleminde Yazı ve İslâm Medeniyetinde Kalem Güzeli, an important work written by the Ottoman intellectual Mahmud Bedreddin Yazır (1895–1952), many books on calligraphy and calligraphers have been published in Istanbul in the republican period by authors who have no memory of the Ottoman era. Their names and editors are provided in the bibliography section. Printing has rapidly developed over the past thirty years, and these books are published with colorful calligraphic samples, thus making up for the gap between today and the Ottoman era.


Abdülaziz Bey, Osmanlı Âdet, Merâsim ve Tâbirleri, ed. Duygu A. Günay and Kazım Arısan, Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 1995, I: 55-93.

Alparslan, Ali, Osmanlı Hat Sanatı Tarihi, Istanbul: Yapı ve Kredi Yayınları, 1999.

Anafarta, Nigâr, “Türkiye’de İlk Kâğıt: Yalova Kâğıt İmâlathanesi,” Hayat Tarih Mecmuası, 1970, year 6, vol. 1, issue 6, pp. 16-18.

Berk, Süleyman, Hattat Mustafa Râkım Efendi, Istanbul: Kaynak Yayınları, 2003.

Dere, Ömer Faruk, Hâfız Osman Efendi, Istanbul: Korpus Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık, 2009.

Derman, M. Uğur, “Cumhuriyet Devrindeki Türk Hat Sanatı,” Yeni Türkiye, 1998, Cumhuriyet special edition, vol. 4, pp. 3173-3176.

Derman, M. Uğur, “Istanbul’un Tuğralı Kitâbelerine Dâir,” VII. Uluslararası Türk Kültürü Kongresi, 5-10 Ekim 2009, Bildiriler IV, Ankara: Atatürk Kültür Merkezi, 2011, pp. 495-512.

Derman, M. Uğur, “Medresetü’l-Hattâtîn’e Dâir,” Prof Dr. Mübahat S. Kütükoğlu’na Armağan, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 2006, p. 511-547.

Derman, M. Uğur, “Mezar Kitâbelerinde Yazı Sanatımız,” Türkiye Turing ve Otomobil Kurumu Belleteni, 1975, issue 49, pp. 36-47.

Derman, M. Uğur, 99 İstanbul Mushafı, Istanbul: Türk Petrol Vakfı, 2010.

Derman, M. Uğur, Emin Barın Koleksiyonu, Istanbul: Boyut, 2010.

Derman, M. Uğur, İslâm Kültür Mirâsında Hat Sanatı, Istanbul: İslam Tarih, Sanat ve Kültür Araştırma Merkezi, 1992.

Derman, M. Uğur, Murakka’-ı Hâs, Istanbul: Kubbealtı Neşriyatı, 2013.

Derman, M. Uğur, Ömrümün Bereketi: 1, Istanbul Ömrümün Bereketi 2011.

Derman, M. Uğur, Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi Hat Koleksiyonundan Seçmeler, Istanbul: Sabancı Üniversitesi Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi, 2002.

Derman, M. Uğur, Türk Hat Sanatının Şaheserleri, Istanbul: Kültür Bakanlığı, 1982.

Derman, M. Uğur, Yeni Câmi Çeşme ve Sebîli’nin Kitâbesi, Istanbul: Meşk Yayınları, 2011.

Eyice, Semâvi, “Istanbul’un Tarihî Eserleri, İA, VI, 1214/44-157.

Habîb, Hatt u Hattâtân, Istanbul: Matbaa-i Ebüzziya, 1305.

İbnülemin Mahmud Kemâl İnal, Son Hattatlar, Istanbul: Maarif Vekaleti, 1955.

Kut, Günay and Hatice Aynur, “Istanbul’un Mimârî Yapılarından Kitâbe Örnekleri,” Prof. Dr. Nihad M.Çetin’e Armağan, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 1999, pp. 63-96.

Mehmed Süreyya, Sicill-i Osmânî, IV vol. Istanbul Matbaa-i Amire, 1308-15.

Meriç, Rıfkı Melûl, “Hicrî 1131 Tarihinde Enderunlu Şâirler, Hattatlar, Mûsıkî Sanatkârları Tezkiresi,” Istanbul Enstitüsü Dergisi, 1956, vol. 2, pp. 139-168.

Mustafa Âlî, Menâkıb-ı Hünerverân, edited by İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal, Istanbul: Türk Tarih Encümeni, 1926.

Müsâhipzâde Celâl, Eski İstanbul Yaşayışı, Istanbul: Türkiye Yayınevi, 1946.

Nefeszâde İbrahim, Gülzâr-ı Savab, Istanbul: Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi, 1939.

Serin, Muhiddin, Hat Sanatı ve Meşhur Hattatlar, Istanbul: Kubbealtı Akademisi Kültür ve Sanat Vakfı, 2003.

Suyolcuzâde Mehmed Necib, Devhatü’l-Küttâb, edited by Kilisli Rifat Bilge, Istanbul: Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi, 1942.

Tanışık, İbrahim Hilmi, Istanbul Çeşmeleri, II vol., Istanbul: Maarif Vekaleti, 1943-45.

Yazır, Mahmud Bedreddin, Medeniyet Âleminde Yazı ve İslâm Medeniyetinde Kalem Güzeli, edited by Uğur Derman, III vol., Ankara: Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı, 1972-88.


1 TSMK, H.S. 5.

2 Müstakimzâde Süleyman Sadeddin, Tuhfe-i Hattâtîn, compiled by İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal, Istanbul: Türk Tarih Encümeni, 1928, p. 28.

3 Müstakimzâde, Tuhfe, p. 624.

4 Müstakimzâde, Tuhfe, p. 142; Şevket Rado, Türk Hattatları, Istanbul: Yayın-Matbaacılık Ticaret Limited Şirketi, no date, pp. 150-151.

5 A system of calculation in which every Arabic letter is equal to a certain number, generally used to provide the dates buildings were constructed.

6 This individual is sometimes referred to as Sofî, but his correct name is Sûfî.

7 A style of calligraphy where two different texts are intertwined.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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