Decorative figures in Turkish art1 have flourished over a long period of time, and in various eras have been replenished by the addition of new ideas. The decorative figures that form the basis of Turkish decorative arts are taken from natural imagery through the eyes of craftsmen and then translated into a realistic style; the basic lines are preserved, while the details are removed, personal taste and perspective is added and the drawing is complete. By means of this method, called üsluplaştırma (stylizing) or üsluba çekme (stylized drawing), nature is neither copied nor negated. The decorative forms are stylized by craftsmen who, although they are all looking at the same flower, create decorative figures that are different in appearance due to differences in taste and perspective. This is the most significant characteristic of the richness of art.
Abundant examples of decorative figures are found in Istanbul, in every decorative art (ornamentation, ceramic, sketches, wood and metal work, stone carvings, etc.). There are technical, material and methodological differences between these different arts, but they all have the same characteristics. For example, decorative figures for ceramic works and sketches are large and detailed, as the length of the work is taken into consideration; for plate or book ornamentation, decorative figures are smaller and simpler. However, in terms of source, character and classification, both categories of designs have the same decorative figures. The size of one panj pattern (Persian; five) for ceramic tile can be up to 15 cm, and the pattern is detailed; whereas the same panj is used without details in book ornamentation and at a size of only 3 mm.
If we classify decorative figures according to the natural sources, it is plant decorative figures that first draw our attention. This group, known as Hatâyî, is divided into sub-groups, such as yaprak (leaf), penç (panj), goncagül (rosebud), hatâyî (Figure 1), and yarı üsluplaştırılmış çiçekler (semi-stylized flowers, such as rose, tulip, carnation, budding trees or lily). Semi-stylized flowers were first introduced in the fourteenth century by a sernakkaş named Karamemi; he lived in Istanbul and was inspired by garden flowers. The most developed of these decorative figures are found in Istanbul and these well-loved semi-stylized decorative figures have been used in every era. A common characteristic of decorative figures based on plant forms is nuanced drawing. The lines used are made finer or thicker in proportion to the width of the pattern. Penç is a stylized drawing of a flower from the top view, while hatâyî (Figure 2) and goncagül are stylized drawings of a vertical section of the flower. As hatâyî, penç, goncagül and leaf decorative figures are fully stylized, defining the original form of the flower is not possible.
On the other hand, animal decorative figures can be examined in two groups: imaginary, legendary animal decorative figures (dragon, phoenix and unicorn) and stylized versions of animals found in nature (lion, panther, rabbit, deer and various birds). Although it is not as popular as the hatayî group, this is an important pattern group in Turkish decorative art.
The cloud pattern came from China to the Turks in Central Asia, and in subsequent eras was used in different ways. Originally, the cloud symbolized rage and anger coming from the mouth of a dragon, but in Turkish arts it took a natural form and was used as part of a realistic style.
The form of the Çintamâni pattern is highly symbolic. Reminiscent of a triangle, it is a combination of three circles—two at the bottom, one at the top—and two wavy lines. Ottoman craftsmen used this pattern as a symbol of power, strength and the sultanate. The three circles are associated with the spots of the panther and the two wavy lines are associated with the tiger. It is for this reason that these decorative figures were frequently used in kaftans (robe) made for the sons of the sultan and the sultan himself. Some of the finest examples of these kaftans with çintamâni decorative figures are exhibited in Topkapı Palace.
The Rumî pattern was a very important pattern in every era of Turkish art and exists in a number of variants. It originates from an animal and the name itself means “from Anatolia”. The name of the motif connotes the Anatolian peninsula, which had stretched as far as the Iranian plateau under the Roman rule been known as Diyâr-ı Rûm (the land of the Romans) in the past. From time to time, some of our craftsmen realized that the term was misleading and therefore offered to change the name to Türkî or Selçûkî, but this offer was not taken up. Rûmî consists of various types, such as işlemeli (embroidered), sencîde (alingned on two sides), sarılma (symmetrical) and dendanlı (ribbed). The most significant drawing feature of Rûmî and münhani decorative figures is their lack of shading.
1 İnci A. Birol and Çiçek Derman, Türk Tezyînî Sanatlarında Motifler, Istanbul: Kubbealtı Akademisi Kültür ve Sanat Vakfı, 1991.