In Stanbul do the many arts,
Find their surest splendor;
In paint and pen and gilt and line,
In Stanbul, how they glitter.
Tezhip, the art of illumination, is a bright and appealing form of book decoration. The word tezhip is derived from the Arabic word for “gilding.” It is a technique that uses crushed gold foil to form patterns in various colors. The distribution of gold mixed with other appropriate colors is significant. Historically, most of the dyes used for tezhip were natural pigments brought from outside of Istanbul. These colors were prepared by crushing the materials on a wet base with a marble rock called a deste-seng (hand stone). Once this laborious process was finished, the colors were prepared for use by mixing them with liquefied acacia gum. A prominent feature of these dyes was that their bright and vivid colors did not fade over the centuries (Image 1).
Post-Conquest Istanbul and Its Transformation to a Center for the Arts
In the last quarter of the seventeenth century, Istanbul became the center for culture and arts in the Islamic world; it maintained this role for centuries. The conquest of Istanbul brought notable gains in the artistic field of tezyinat (decoration). It is well known that Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1451–1481) had a special interest in the visual arts. He established a center for the arts, called a nakkaşhane, in Topkapı Palace and appointed Uzbek Baba Nakkaş to the staff. This group of artists, known as nakkaş (miniaturists) worked on the second floor of an old Byzantine church located in the Hagia Sophia area, close to the sea. This institution was known as the Arslanhane. The nakkaşhane was also a center in which many artists produced work. The nakkaşhane was the precursor of a new style of art; it was a place where artists who reflected the concept of art during that age through different styles were brought together. This Istanbul üslubu (style), as it was called, was produced in the seventeenth century through the interaction of artists from different parts of the world, and was a reflection of the shared taste of the artists in the Ottoman palace.
When Mehmed II defeated the Aq Qoyunlu ruler Uzun Hasan at the Battle of Otlukbeli in 1473, he showed tremendous respect for the Aq Qoyunlu scholars and artists. Mehmed II eventually brought the scholars and artist to Istanbul to work in his court.1 This event marked the beginning of a tradition; the conquests by Mehmed II enriched the artists’ guilds in Istanbul, bringing in new talent. In addition, the patronage of Mehmed II provided Istanbul with the opportunity to become a center of the arts.
If we take a moment to examine tezhip in Istanbul during the reign of Mehmed II, cobalt blue comes to the fore as the most commonly used background color after gold, which was used in both matte and gloss finishes. As time passed, cobalt blue was replaced with bedahşî navy. In works of that era, a special three-point technique that embellished navy with black, brown, and bright green in the background was used (Image 2). Furthermore, zahriye pages, which were placed in manuscripts before the text, were usually illuminated with what is known as the mekik style. Due to the great variety of tığ (straight lines that extend out from the edge of the design), the zahriye pages were truly stunning (Image 3). The addition of a ruby color when spreading the shaded gold, known as halkârî, took place in the same era. This semi-translucent ink was used at the ends of dense gold patterns. This style was referred to as foyalı halkârî and was used in creating distinctive and beautiful patterns; it was also applied in later periods.
How Did Istanbul Become a Center of the Arts?
Selim I (r. 1512–1520) followed his grandfather Mehmed II in continuing to emphasize Istanbul as a center of the arts. After defeating Shah Ismail at the Battle of Çaldıran, Selim I assembled numerous artists from different fields. These artists, who had previously been brought to Tabriz from Khorasan and Herat by Shah Ismail, were brought to Istanbul along with their families.2 In addition, Sultan Selim I brought many artists, such as nakkaş, painters, calligraphers, müzehhips (tezhip artists, illuminators), and musicians who had been working for the shah to Amasya, where the sultan would spend the winter; here he assigned them to positions related to their skills and talents.3 Most of the artists brought to Istanbul by both sultans were originally Turkish. According to historical accounts, the main reason for this was that by the mid-fifteenth century, Istanbul had become the center for arts in the Turkish-Islamic world.
The most important person who was brought to Istanbul from Tabriz by Selim I was Badi’ al-Zaman Mirza, the last prince of Timur. Timur’s grandson, Mirza, brought his entourage and a vast library with him, thus gaining the sultan’s respect and patronage. He lived in Istanbul until his death in 1515 or 1517, and was buried in the Eyüp Sultan cemetery.4
Artists who worked for the palace in the Ottoman Empire conducted their activities within an organization known as the Ehl-i Hiref, which was located in Topkapı Palace. At first, artists used to work in two separate studios: the Bölük-i Acemân (Persian Group) for artists who came from Tabriz, and the Bölük-i Rûmiyân (Anatolian Group) for artists originating from the provinces of Anatolia and Rumelia. These two studios were united in the late fifteenth century.5 The Ehl-i Hiref comprised artists engaged in different handicrafts; the largest groups were nakkaş, müzehhip, zerger (goldsmiths), and kemha dokuyucular (velour weavers). These craftsmen, who worked in a master-apprentice relationship, were salaried employees of the palace. Works of art that carried great value would be presented to the sultan during the Bayram (Eid) celebrations, and occasionally their artists would be rewarded with thousands of akçes (aspers). The Ehl-i Hiref books found in the Topkapı Palace archives, the earliest of which is dated 1526, contain many accounts and a great deal of data concerning the palace artists, including their names, places of origin, wages, works, and incomes from the sale of their works (specifically those made for the Bayram).6 The Ehl-i Hiref registry documents include accounts of the hattats (calligraphers), who copied books on different subjects for the sultan, müzehhips, who illustrated books in different styles, and mücellids (binders), who prepared manuscript volumes with patent-leather and leather bindings. Along with these artists, there were also the kağıtçıs who prepared and sized paper, the mührezens who made the stones that were used for polishing, the renkzens who prepared dyes, the mürekkepçis who made ink, and the cetvelkeşes who drew the borders around texts.7
Starting with Sultan Mehmed II, it became a tradition to bring scholars and artists from every city in the state to the capital. Selim I followed this tradition, both after the 1517 Battle of Çaldıran and the conquest of Egypt, making Istanbul a bright and lively center for a variety of art styles and perspectives from different countries. Thus, Istanbul became the city of every artist’s dreams.
Istanbul in the era of Bayazid II (r. 1481–1512) and in the sixteenth century marked the beginning of the most developed stage of the art of tezhip. The tezhip that was found on the Qur’anic copies made by Sheikh Hamdullah (1429–1520), a great calligrapher, are proof of this (Image 4, 5). Tezhip and the organization of the pages of the Qur’an reached their final stage at this time. The matte and bright gold used on tezhip became more important than the bedahşî laciverdi and created a spectacular combination. Colors were used with balance and immense skill. There was a great variety of designs, and as new patterns were added, this type of work reached the apex of taste and art.
The Qur’an copy made by Sheikh Hamdullah that is in Istanbul University library8 is a spectacular example of the style of the ulema and the zahriye page, an example of a brilliant tezhip design as a serlevha (the first two pages of the Qur’anic text), and the hatime (epilogue) page demonstrate the development of the art of tezhip. The tezhip in this work was created by one of the greatest müzehhips of the time: Hasan bin Abdullah. Fazlullah Nakkaş, also known as “Ibn al-Arab” was the sernakkaş (head illustrator/miniaturist) for many manuscripts of the same period. As for the müzehhips, most were from Iran, and included names like Hasan b. Mehmed, Melek Ahmed Tabrizî, Hasan b. Abdülcelil, Turmuş b. Hayreddin, Üveys b. Ahmed, Bayram b. Derviş Şîr, İbrahim b. Ahmed, and Mehmed b. Bayram.
The goal of both the hattat and the müzehhip was to write and illuminate the Qur’an in the best possible way. In general, rather than trying to create new styles and designs, the aim was to create the tezhip while remaining faithful to the classical rules. This artistic tradition derived its motivation from adab (literary science) and, with some small changes, was respected for centuries throughout the Islamic world.
According to the nakkaşhane tradition, tezhip in the Qur’an was created through a master-apprentice relationship, supervised by the sernakkaş at the Istanbul palace. Some different aspects of tezhip will be explained in detail below:
Zahriye Tezhip: Zahriye is a word that means “backing”; this term refers to the reverse side of the page preceding the main text—i.e., the page that faces the main text. This is an illuminated area of the book that is outside the Qur’anic text (Image 6). The name of the owner of the work or the person for whom it was made was sometimes written in or around the circle of mekik patterns; this was known as a temellük inscription. The zahriye tezhip, which required a great deal of labor and expense, was first implemented after the tenth century, but ceased to be used after the seventeenth century. Later examples did not have the prestige or beauty of earlier works.
Serlevha Tezhibi: The tezhip of the first two pages of the Qur’an, which came after the zahriye (i.e., Sura al-Fatiha and the first five verses of Sura al-Baqara), was known as serlevha tezhip. These two pages contain the most examples of tezhip, which covers a smaller area of the text. These are also referred to as dilbace. On these pages, in which the müzehhips demonstrated their greatest skills, there was also a form of tezhip known as beyne’s-sutur; the text was inserted into a frame known as a dendan, which was positioned between the calligraphic texts. On the following pages, only gold borders were drawn; on both sides of the borders, lines called tahrir, black or in other colors, would be drawn. Between every verse, tezhip patterns, known as dura, were included.
After every twenty pages, a cüz gülü (section rose) (Image 7) was drawn, and on every five pages a hizb gülü (rose) would be drawn; on the lines of the fourteen secde (prostration) verses, a secde gülü was included. After every ten verses, an aşare gülü was placed, and before every sura, a surebaşı tezhip (Image 8) was drawn. These tezhip designs, which were placed outside the frame, on the side of the page, were generally referred to as gül; if there were more than one such a design on the page, they would be placed in a line.
Tezhip on the hatime (epilogue) page, also known as the ketebe page or ferağ kaydı, was placed at the end of the Qur’an; this was also where the signature was included (Image 9). Consistent colors, patterns, and designs were used in order to maintain the harmony of the work. Thicker paper was used for the pages with zahriye and serlevha tezhip to support the work.
Signatures by the müzehhip can rarely be found at the end of the Qur’an. The signature on the hatime page would be that of the sernakkaş for tezhip that was completed by more than one artist.9
The second zenith of tezhip was during the age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566). Şahkulu (d. 1556), a student of Ağa Mir (Aka Mîrek),10 an artist brought by Selim I from Tabriz, was the sernakkaş in the palace nakkaşhane in Istanbul; he created the sazyolu style. This style, which was also referred to as saz yazmak in Ottoman sources, was performed by a special group of artists in the palace nakkaşhane.11
The famous sixteenth-century illuminator Karamemi, who became the palace sernakkaş after the death of his master Şahkulu, brought a new understanding and style to Turkish tezhip; by going beyond the classical rules, Karamemi became the pioneer of a new trend. According to the records of the Topkapı Palace Museum Archive, he worked as an illuminator and painter during the reign of Selim II. Karamemi, who was a master at using flower patterns, illuminated different copies of Muhibbi Divanı, the collection of poems Süleyman the Magnificent wrote under the penname Muhibbi (Image 11). The Qur’an that was copied in 1544 by the hattat Abdullah Sayrafi, located in the Topkapı Palace Museum Library,12 is known to include Karamemi tezhip; this can be determined by the signature on the side of the Qur’an case. This work shows the great extent of the artist’s detailed style.13
The palace nakkaşhane is the place that first comes to mind when contemplating the history of tezhip instruction; however, at earlier times, the Enderun school and Mevlevi asitaneleri (convents) also played an important role in training artists. There were also many artists trained in the Mevlevihanes. At the same time, the Enderun school, the official school in Topkapı Palace where talented boys were educated, was also active in this area.
The müzehhip Hasan Pasha (d. 1622), an Ottoman vizier, was trained in Enderun. He worked with the miniaturist Osman, one of the miniaturists during the reign of Sultan Murad III (r. 1574–1595).14 He learned how to do tezhip as an apprentice to a master of the art at the nakkaşhane. The first words on his miniature masterpiece, which he began in the 1580s, were written by the palace şehnamecisi (official court poet) Ta‘lîkîzade Mehmed Subhi (d. 1606?). Sultan Ahmed I’s illuminated tuğra (sultan’s signature) by the miniaturist Hasan Pasha demonstrates that he was also a talented illuminator. This signed tuğra tezhip is a great example of harmony in design and pattern.15 Hasan Pasha was assigned to the janissary corps in 1604; he participated in the Hungarian campaign. On his return to Istanbul, Hasan Pasha was appointed to the governorship of Rumelia and made a vizier. For several reasons, he requested to be allowed to retire in 1607; he died in 1622. His square-shaped mausoleum, built out of stone, is located in the Eyüp district.16
The political and social decline in the Ottoman Empire first becomes apparent in the works of art that were made during the second half of the seventeenth century (Image 12). Later works were unable to maintain the subtlety and agility of earlier works, and the brightness and vibrancy of the colors were lost.
The most popular ornamental motifs during this period were flower miniatures (Image 13). This style, known as murakkaa, was made by drawing semi-stylized garden flowers that were used singly or together in different ways, usually on the first or last page and on the inner cover of the book; the designs filled these pages.
We can understand from the documents that every year müzehhips were awarded icazets (certificates) at a ceremony in Istanbul’s Okmeydanı Atıcılar (Okçular) Tekke; the official permission for this ceremony was granted by the mücellitbaşı. Leading artists and müzehhips of the period were also invited to the icazet ceremony, and the works of people who had received the certification would be examined and evaluated by the senior people attending. After this ceremony, successful candidates would be granted the right to put their signature on any new works.17 This tradition was scrupulously preserved for many years and implemented with great care. It is not known whether such ceremonies were carried out in cities other than Istanbul.
In the eighteenth century, the influence of Western rococo and baroque styles on the Ottoman art of tezhip brought along new tastes and approaches; this was accompanied by the continuation of the classical Ottoman style, which by that point had a less refined approach but still maintained its color, pattern, and design. In the Tulip Era, which was between 1718 and 1730, during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703–1730), the impact of Western art began to increase and a wide variety of natural-style floral motifs frequently began to appear among the classical tezhip designs.
Tezhip designs of flower bouquets on a gold background in the middle of the serlevha page or between the halkârî on the edges, which were for the most part in a closed form, were common in this era. An elegant example from this era is the Murakka‘-i Khas, dated 1140 (1727/28); this work includes of Sultan Ahmed III’s tuğra and tezhip by Ahmed Hazine (d. 1761).18
Artists from the palace nakkaşhane produced works using a new style that was referred to as Turkish rococo; this was created by adding Turkish styles to influences coming from the West. By the end of the era, Western influences became more prominent and traditional characteristics were lost. Innovations that emerged during this era include flowers in a vase, twisted and curled with long, sazyolu-style leaves, the addition of perspective with light and shadow, and plaited bands and ribbons.
Flowers that carry miniature features are known to have had special significance. These flowers would fill a full page and mostly were used as a single flower; they were presented in album format. During this century, müzehhip artists became known as flower painters due to their signed works; this was different from former centuries. The most famous of these artists was Üsküdarlı Ruganî Ali Çelebi, who left his mark on the century in which he lived. Although the years he lived are not precisely known, his works are dated between 1718 and 1763. He used a number of signatures, including Zahhabahu Ali al-Üsküdarî, Aliyyü’l-Üsküdarî, Üsküdarî Ali Efendi, Üsküdarî Çelebi, Ruganî Çelebi, Ruganî-i Üsküdarî, Ruganî Ali, and Ali Çelebi.
Documents from Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace archives show that Ali Üsküdarî worked for the palace. Müstakimzade’s Tuhfe-i Hattâtîn19 records that he was a student of Yusuf-ı Mısrî and he illuminated the Qur’an copied by Yedikuleli Seyyid Abdullah (d. 1731) (Image 14). During his forty-five years as an artist, Ali Üsküdari used such different forms of art as askubur kalemdan, kitap kabı, yazı altlığı (Image 15), yazı çekmecesi, murakkaa, levha, and kitap tezhibi. Today, twenty-five of his works are known to exist, twenty-one of which have been signed, and three of which are outside Turkey; these are located in various museums, libraries, and private collections.20
Abdullah Bukhari is another artist from this period known as a flower painter. He lived in Istanbul. From his signed and dated works, we can understand that he worked between 1735 and 1745. Abdullah Bukhari usually drew a single flower (Image 16). He also performed the same style with miniature flowers, filling the page with these. His works demonstrate that he was a careful observer of nature. Furthermore, the two landscape paintings he created on a ruganî bookcase, now located in the Topkapı Palace Museum Library,21 are the earliest known compositions to use perspective in the Ottoman State.22
Baroque and rococo influences, which were first felt during the era of Sultan Selim III (r. 1789–1807), only appeared at first within convenient boundaries; this was perceived as introducing richness to the art of tezhip, although later it proved impossible to prevent the negative effect on the essential values of the Turkish decorative arts (Image 17). There was no popular demand for transformation in tezhip, but over time artists began to accept it.
The concept of “Tradition in Art” enabled tezhip to maintain its identity and retain its originality for centuries, despite the various changes it underwent. However, if this renovation in Turkish decorative arts had been consciously accepted, it would have been much more beneficial for the field of art.
The most important artist among those who lived, produced works, and trained students in the nineteenth century was Hezargrâdîzâde Seyyid Ahmed Ataullah Efendi. He tried to combine the rococo style with an Ottoman-Turkish understanding in order to give it a local taste. The dates of his birth and death are not known; but based on the signature dates on his works, it is possible to conclude that he lived in the second half of the eighteenth century and died in the first half of the nineteenth century. The tezhip in the Qur’an copied by Muhammed Emin İzzeti in 1221 (1806), and which is now located in Dublin,23 was made by Ataullah Efendi; he thus must have received his icazet before that year.
We can learn the details about Ataullah Efendi’s life from the signatures on his works. For example, he signed the ferağ kaydı of a Qur’an24 dated 1252/1836 as “Hezargrâdîzâde es-Seyyid Ahmed Atâullah Ser-Mücellidân-ı Hassa.” From this signature, it can be deduced that his father was born in Razgrad, which was known as Rezargrad at that time, in Bulgaria. He must have been born in Istanbul and trained in the Enderun school. Once again, we can understand from his signatures that Ataullah Efendi, who was talented enough to introduce a new style in tezhip, was the chief bookbinder during the area of Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839). From another signature on a Qur’an,25 the tezhip of which was prepared in 1262 (1846), that is, during the reign of Abdülmecid, it can be understood that Ataullah Efendi continued to work during these years. He prepared a few excellent zerendud hilyes by using Mustafa İzzet Efendi’s hurde ta’lik hilye design, dated 1237/1821. From his other signature,26 “Hezargradîzâde es-Seyyid Ahmed Hattî” on his hilye, dated 1237/1821, we see that he used the pseudonym of Hattî due to this success. As far as we know, among all müzehhips, Ataullah Efendi was the only artist to have enjoyed such success.
Ataullah Efendi was the developer of a style based on natural flower patterns designed with the fırça tarama technique. Today, this style is known as the Atâ method or Pesend method. In this technique, in which several flowers are placed on top of another, the background and the pedicles can hardly be seen. Since this technique requires extreme care and patience, there are not many works of art that employ this style.27
Hüseyin Hüsnü Efendi, who grew up in and continued to live in Istanbul, was the student of Ataullah Efendi. Much as his teacher had done, Hüseyin Hüsnü Efendi tried to adapt the rococo style by adding national interpretations. However, this did not prevent him from moving away from the more traditional styles of tezhip. His first known work was the zerendud hilye, which was signed as having been completed in 1237/1822. This zerendud plaque, which is dated 1298/1881, belongs to Sami Efendi (d. 1912), a famous calligrapher of that era, and bears the signature hüsnü. Today, it is exhibited in the Turkish Calligraphy Art Museum. It measures 57 cm x 117 cm and is the last known tezhip example by this artist. Comparing his works before and after this time, we can see that the artist enjoyed a life of sixty fruitful years. He worked with the rococo style, as demanded by his era, with thin, clean brush-strokes, transforming it into something that coincided with Turkish tezhip.
The müzehhip Tevfik Efendi, a student of Hacı Hüseyin Hüsnü Efendi, was sent to the Paris Exhibition by the Ottoman government in 1867. His work was widely acclaimed and he was conferred the title of pasha.
The three artists mentioned above all had the honor of being hattî and pasha, titles previously not conferred on any other müzehhip. This demonstrates that, regardless of unfavorable influences on the decorative arts, Istanbul was still a productive artistic center.
Up until the nineteenth century, calligraphy had always been of prime importance; its decoration was only incidental. The main aim was to add extra beauty to the beauty of the script. However, we can see that by the nineteenth century, this understanding had disappeared, as in other aspects of decoration. In the rococo style, the decoration dominates the calligraphy. The writing almost disappears under the excessive decoration. At first glance, the writing may not even be noticeable. In the rococo style, the place assigned to decoration was greater than had been the case in classical tezhip. The upper sides were completed by column headings with hints of architectural elements. For the most part, an impressive rococo tezhip heading was placed on these columns. Small leaves and vases took the place of the tığs present in classical tezhip. The mücevher durak, the best decorative element of that time, was developed and used in different styles. In the prayer books, known as Delâilü’l-hayrât, the second most frequently written works after the Qur’an, depictions of Mecca and Medina were included. There were also flower albums, known as şükûfenâme.
When Sultan Mahmud II gave non-Muslim citizens the right to work in nakkaş,28 modifications in the classic arts increased. With the Tanzimat reforms, Western influence affected all branches of art, except calligraphy, negatively. This influence can be considered as a turning point in Turkish artwork. Sultan Mahmud II, who was a strong defender of Westernization, and his close retinue no longer preferred the works of Turkish artists.
Exactly when the palace nakkaşhane was abolished is not known, but it is thought that it was abolished in the second half of the eighteenth century due to the growing interest in Western art.
Over time, the prestige of tezhip declined, and artists outside the palace started to work in the Müzehhipler Çarşısı (Illuminators Market) in Vezneciler, Istanbul. This place, which is now located in front of the Faculty of Pharmacy of Istanbul University, was home to this form of art for years. Under the shops, there were old vaults in which special papers were kept. The artists carried out their craft in the shops on the ground floor or the mezzanine floor, if there was one. As the müzehhip usually also worked as a bookbinder, after the calligraphy had been finished, the completed volume would emerge from here, dependent on the time of artist and the money invested in the work.
Those müzehhips who opened shops practiced their craft alongside their apprentices. Ink and pen sharpeners’ shops were located in the Sabuncu Hanı in Vezneciler. In this area, other shops that provided the special tools and materials for the different branches of book arts could be found. There was also gold leaf, known as “local gold,” which was manufactured in the Varakçılar Hanı (Gold Beaters’ Khan) and Varakçılar Çarşısı (Gold Beaters’ Market) in Beyazıt and Süleymaniye, respectively, until the end of the nineteenth century. When all these shops are taken into consideration, it is easier to understand the scope and nature of this artistic neighborhood.
The workshops of müzehhips were furnished with cushions and couches for the comfort of customers and visitors. The entire floor was covered with mats, allowing the visitors to take off their shoes at the entrance. There were two indispensable things in those shops: the “müzehhip drawer” and the “müzehhip chest.”
The golden age of tezhip started in the mid-nineteenth century, and included the reigns of Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839–1861), Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861–1876), and part of the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876–1909). Compared with works from previous centuries in which the signature of the muralist was rarely indicated, the names and signatures on nineteenth-century works allow us to become familiar with the illuminators, even though their life stories still remain a mystery.
It is known that famous hattat of this era would give their works to these workshops; these workshops were also the location of discussions about art. One of those most famous shops was that of Hüseyin Hüsnü Efendi. In addition, the shops of Mücellidbaşı Saliha Efendi, Nureddin Efendi, and Sarhoş Ali Efendi were famous. The final shop known to have been famous was that of Bahaddin Efendi, Nureddin Efendi’s son. In the twentieth century, official institutions took the place of those shops. The first was Medresetü’l-Hattatin (Calligraphers’ Madrasa). This two-story school, established as a primary school, was built on the Ankara Road in Cağaloğlu, Istanbul. Traditional arts were taught by respected teachers. Today, the building is used as the Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı Devlet Kitapları Müdürlüğü (Ministry of Education’s Directorate of State Books.).
The Medresetü’l-Hattatin, which was established on May 20 1915, provided services that helped the traditional arts continue until the present day. On the plaque that was prepared for the opening, on exhibit today in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, one can see the signatures of the people who participated in the ceremony. One of the signatures is that of Yeniköylü Nuri (Urunay) Bey (d. 1943). It can be understood from the records that Yeniköylü Nuri Bey gave tezhip lessons in the Sanayi-i Nefise Mektep (Fine Art School) from October 1, 1911.29 This information can be found in the text of Nuri Bey’s signature, which he placed in the opening document of the Sanayi-i Nefise Mektep. Official education in tezhip can be dated to this time.
The plaque that was created for the opening ceremony begins with a basmala written by Hacı Kamil Akdik (d. 1941), and was probably decorated by the tezhip instructor of the school, Yeniköylü Nuri Bey. At the point on the plaque where the zencerek içpervazı (inner molding) and the tığs finish, there is a dışpervazı that measures 4 cm. The background is gold. Teachers who provided instruction in tezhip there included Yeniköylü Nuri Bey and Bahaddin (Tokatlıoğlu) Efendi (1855–1939). The works produced every year were exhibited on the ground floor of the building during the one-month holiday of Ramadan. The attention given by art lovers at the beginning of the twentieth century indicates the height of the level of art achieved there. The exhibitions were given wide press coverage and continued until 1928. The first ratification ceremony was held on October 14 1918. The second and final one was held on November 27, 1923.30
When the madrasas were closed in 1924, this institution was also closed, although it was not a madrasa in the traditional sense. Eight months later, it changed its name to Hattat Mektebi (Calligraphers School) and continued to operate until 1928. In 1929, its name was changed once again to Şark Tezyinî Sanatlar Mektebi (School of Oriental Decorative Arts). Bahaddin (Tokatlıoğlu) Efendi and Tuğrakeş İsmail Hakkı (Altunbezer, 1876–1946) Bey continued to work here as instructors in tezhip.
In 1936, the Türk Tezyinî Sanatlar Şubesi (Turkish Decorative Arts Department) of the Şark Tezyinî Sanatlar Mektebi was incorporated into the Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi (Academy of Fine Arts, GSA); instruction continued with the same teachers. Ismail Hakkı Altunbezer and his assistant Yusuf Çapanoğlu (1882–1944) worked as permanent staff in this department. The last gold beater who worked in the GSA was Beykozlu Hüseyin Yaldız Usta, who died in 1949. After he passed away, this course was not re-opened. The departmental staff was first convened on 20 July 1936, headed by the GSA director Burhan Toprak (1906–1967); instruction began after this. The department was one of five departments in the academy. In the GSA brochure, prepared in 1937, lecture names were indicated as follows: tezhip, tezyinî arap yazısı (decorative calligraphy), ebru ve âhar (marbling and paper preparation), Türk ciltçiliği (Turkish binding), Türk cilt kalıpları yapımı (making of Turkish binding material), altın varak yapımı (gold-leaf making), Türk minyatürü (Turkish miniature), sedef kakmacılığı (mother-of-pearl inlay), Türk çini nakışları (Turkish tile motifs), halı nakışları (carpet motifs), and kıymetli taşlar üzerine hak (precious stones).
At this time, younger academics were regarded as the agents of modernity at the GSA. Some who had studied abroad found the approach of the older teachers working at GSA odd. For the younger generation, the older teachers were representatives of a different and old-fashioned perception. Burhan Toprak was uncomfortable with the combination of those two different perspectives and therefore hesitated to join the academic staff. The negative consequences of this government-orchestrated meeting of scholars became apparent in ensuing years.
Toprak, who had managed the academy from 1936 to 1948, did not recruit assistant professors and had a negative attitude toward Turkish decorative arts. This prepared the ground for the closure of the department. One important aspect that was overlooked in the academy’s regulations was that there was no concrete education plan or curriculum for the department. As far as tezhip was concerned, the classic perspective did not get the attention it deserved. Rather, the mistakes that had been seen in the late period were repeated and tezhip was created mostly with very little planning.
Dr. Süheyl Ünver (1898–1986) taught miniature art from 1955 on, even though he had been a member of staff at the Faculty of Medicine Istanbul University. Muhsin Demironat (1907–1983) and Rikkat Kunt (1903–1986) joined the department as instructors in tezhip in 1945, supervised by the çini (Turkish tiles) design teacher Feyzullah Dayıgil (1910–1949). These four people held a special role in maintaining the classical approach to the art of tezhip. These teachers were born and educated in Istanbul, and produced art and died in the city.
Thanks to the publications and exhibitions of Dr. Süheyl Ünver, who gave lessons in Topkapı Palace between 1939 and 1958, tezhip and the art of miniature painting attracted attention. With Ünver’s efforts, younger students were trained in these branches and were able to pass their knowledge to the next generation. In this sense, the people who ensured the continuance of the nakkaşhane tradition of the Ottoman palace were Dr. Süheyl Ünver and his student Mihriban Sözer (1914–2009). When he left the academy in 1955, Ünver continued to practice the art until 1968 in the Department of Deontology that he created at Istanbul University.
After the appointment of Muhsin Demironat to the Yıldız Porcelain Factory as manager in 1966, Rikkat Hanım continued to teach visiting students for another two years. In 1968, she retired at the mandatory retirement age, but continued to give lessons to students and produce works in her home in Beylerbeyi. At the same time, due to Demironat’s exquisite ceramic/porcelain work and his eagerness to produce, a willing team gathered around him. Demironat’s brilliant pattern designs are still used in the Yıldız Porcelain Factory today.
In spite of being part of informal education, these arts managed to survive to the 1980s with the help of older educators who continued to train students voluntarily. Such teachers gave lessons to talented students in their houses, regardless of the many obstacles they face, and regarded this training as a form of religious worship. In this way, any gap in education was filled by the teachers. The Kubbealtı Nakışhanesi, which was established by the Kubbealtı Culture and Art Foundation under the management of Dr. Süheyl Ünver, played a great role in these efforts. The foundation still continues to carry on work in the field today.
Geleneksel Türk El Sanatları Kursu (Traditional Turkish Handicrafts Course) was re-established under the supervision of Akademi Temsilciler Kurulu (Academy Representation Board) on 7 October 1976, after a hiatus of eight years. The course, which included five main art branches, was incorporated into the Fine Arts Faculty of Mimar Sinan University in 1982.
Traditional Turkish Handicrafts departments were established at Marmara University first, and then at several other universities throughout Turkey. In these departments, scholars and academics have trained a number of students in the art of tezhip and miniatures.
While in the past tezhip was produced by an artisan community that included different branches of the art, in large studios today it involves the labor of only one person. The preparation of the paper by dying and sizing it, crushing the gold, designing the pattern, and determining the colors, and the ultimate execution of the work are all carried out by one individual. The enduring characteristic of Turkish decorative arts is that the students are individually trained by a master. The subject is taught to the student by drawing the motifs and patterns with chalk on a blackboard. Then the patterns drawn by the students are checked and corrected one by one. This method is very important. Explaining the errors of the students and correcting any errors in the pattern by having students redraw them is the first rule of instruction. This nakkaşhane tradition continues today.
What has changed in the decorative arts is that from the twentieth century onward, artists, who originally volunteered their instruction without expecting anything in return, have become government employees and are now paid for their services. Formerly, students did not pay teachers, and this enabled the teacher-student chain to continue for years. Students who did not pay their teachers anything felt obliged to educate new students to fulfill their responsibilities. According to the traditional art community, “The work can be sold, but the art cannot.” When decorative arts started to be taught in public schools in the twentieth century, the teachers were given salaried positions.
The wealth and growth of art continued until a time when the müzehhips failed to neutralize foreign influence on their craft. When those influences started to be directly incorporated into the art of tezhip, without any filtering, the art lost its classic, traditional identity. As for today, in Istanbul’s new generations have embraced tezhip as a branch of art and have been trying to keep interest alive by conserving both the sixteenth-century inspiration and today’s perspective.
The best idiom that describes the art of tezhip is “to dig a well with a needle.” Tezhip is a form of art that requires the same degree of precision and attention from everyone, whether the masters who have dedicated years of their lives to it or the newly trained müzehhip. Working from the Turkish word çalakalem (hasty pen), it is said that çalafırça tezhip, illumination carried out with a hasty brush, immediately reveals itself for what it is; no error can be forgiven.
Why Were Müzehhips More Successful in Istanbul?
Over the course of history, Many young men have come to Istanbul from the four corners of the world and become well-known artists after receiving training, either in Enderun or from a master. These young artists knew that they had to compete with one another in order to be admired and to attain Istanbul’s high degree of taste and luxury. They also knew that an average müzehhip could not continue to live in Istanbul, because there was no market for merely ordinary tezhip in Istanbul.
Since 1453, Istanbul has acted as home to artists who came from conquered lands, as well as to several wandering artists who came to Istanbul voluntarily and lived there for several years. Consequently, encounters between people and different art movements led to the emergence of new genres. By blending what they had brought with what they found, these artists developed and evolved in Istanbul and produced art for years.
The places where people are born and live have an undeniable impact on their personalities. As the cultural center of the world, Istanbul has continued to train artists in its spacious territory for many a generation. It was a center of classical art and provided müzehhips with opportunities to be productive. Even today, with its rich history and vast museum and library collections, Istanbul continues to be the center of the art of tezhip.
1 İsmail Hami Danişmend, İzahlı Osmanlı Tarihi Kronolojisi, Istanbul: Türkiye Yayınevi, 1947, vol. 1, p. 327.
2 Ali Haydar Bayat, “Osmanlı El Sanatlarının Gelişmesinde Ehl-i Hıref’in Rolü ve Kimliği”, El Sanatları Dergisi,, issue 1 (1997), p. 56.
3 İsmail Hakkı Uzunçarşılı, “Osmanlı Sarayında Ehl-i Hiref (Sanatkârlar) Defterleri”, Belgeler, vol. 11, issue 15 (1986), p. 24.
4 İsmail Hami Danişmend, İzahlı Osmanlı Tarihi Kronolojisi, Istanbul: Türkiye Yayınevi, 1948, vol. 2, p. 15.
5 Filiz Çağman, “Kanuni Dönemi Osmanlı Saray Sanatçıları”, Türkiyemiz, issue 54 (1988), p. 14.
6 Rıfkı Melûl Meriç, “Nakış Tarihi Vesikaları”, AÜİFD, vol. 1, issue 2-3 (1952),, pp. 85-107; Bayat, “Osmanlı El Sanatlarının Gelişmesinde Ehl-i Hıref”, p. 58.
7 Hilâl Kazan, XVI. Asırda Sarayın Sanatı Himayesi, Istanbul: İslam Tarih, Sanat ve Kültürünü Araştırma Vakfı [İSAR], 2010, pp. 129-138.
8 Istanbul University, Rare Works Library, A. 6566.
9 F. Çiçek Derman, “Tarihimizde Mushafların Bezenmesi”, Diyanet İlmî Dergi, 2011, Special Edition of the Qur’an, pp. 647-653.
10 Bânu Mahir, “Saray Nakkaşhanesinin Ünlü Ressamı Şah Kulu ve Eserleri”, Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi: Yıllık-1, Istanbul: Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Müdürlüğü, 1986, pp. 113-130.
11 Çiçek Derman and Gülnur Duran, “Şahkulu”, DİA, vol.38,, pp. 283-284.
12 TSMK, E.H., no. 49.
13 Gülnur Duran, “Kara Memi”, DİA, vol. 24, pp. 362-363.
14 İsmail Hakkı Uzunçarşılı, Osmanlı Tarihi, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1982, vol. 3/2, p. 569; Zeren Tanındı, “Nakkaş Hasan Paşa”, Sanat, vol. 3, issue 6 (1977), pp. 114-125 and other pages, “Nakkaş Hasan Paşa”, DİA, vol. 32, pp. 329-330.
15 TSMK, Güzel Yazılar, no. 1394.
16 Ahmet Vefa Çobanoğlu, “Nakkaş Hasan Paşa Türbesi”, DİA, vol. 32, pp. 330-331.
17 Uzunçarşılı, Osmanlı Tarihi, vol. 2, p. 623.
18 M. Uğur Derman, Murakka‘-ı Hâs, Istanbul: Kubbealtı Neşriyatı, 2013.
19 Istanbul: Türk Tarih Encümeni, 1928, p. 271.
20 Gülnur Duran, Ali Üsküdârî, Tezhip ve Ruganî Üstâdı, Çiçek Ressamı, İstanbul: Kubbealtı Neşriyatı, 2008.
21 TSMK, E.H., no. 1380.
22 Filiz Çağman, “Abdullah-ı Buhârî”, DİA, vol. 1, 87-88.
23 Chester Beatty Library, Issue 15.
24 Istanbul University Library,, no. A. 57.
25 TİEM, no. 477.
26 TSMK, H.S., no. 21/21.
27 F. Çiçek Derman, “Tezhip”, DİA, LXI, 6.
28 Vak’anüvis Ahmed Lutfi, Târih-i Lutfi, Istanbul: Matbaa-i Âmire, 1290, vol.1, p.239; Tuncer Baykara “II. Mahmud ve Resim”, Hacattepe Üniversitesi Sosyal ve İdari Bilimler Dergisi, 1980, Special Edition, pp. 509-515.
29 Mustafa Cezar, “Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi’nden 100. Yılda Mimar Sinan Üniversitesi’ne”, Güzel Sanatlar Eğitiminde 100 Yıl, Istanbul: Mimar Sinan U., 1983, p. 60.
30 F. Çiçek Derman, “XX. Yüzyıl İstanbul’undaki Tezyini Sanatlar Üzerine”, 7. Uluslararası Türk Kültürü Kongresi (5-10 Ekim 2009) Türk ve Dünya Kültüründe İstanbul: Bildiriler, Ankara: Atatürk Kültür Merkezi, 2012, vol.4, pp. 481-494.