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Ottoman Miniatures, and its famous Artists.

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Origine of Ottoman Miniatures

The art of Ottoman Miniatures seen from surviving buildings and art effects of that period (15th to 18th century) is greatly influenced in its origin by Byzantine, Mamluk, Persian and Chinese art traditions. Miniatures were mostly for sultans but also for influential and powerful figures in their retinues. 

Mehmet II (“the Conqueror,” 1444–46, 1451–81) began an ambitious reconstruction program with his growing world empire. He commissioned two palaces (the Old and the New laterTopkapi, palaces) and a mosque complex (the Mehmetiye, later Fatih complex), which combined religious, educational, social, and commercial functions. Mehmet drew his commissions from Turkic, Perso-Islamic, and Byzantine artistic repertoires.

It had been an Ottoman tradition since Mehmed II to appoint a writer to document the main events of the Sultan’s reign in books. These chronicles are known as şahname’s (books of kings) and their authors are called şahnameci’s (writers of şahname’s). The artists’ imperial art studios would illustrate these books. We are aware of two imperial art studios during the reign of Selim I (The Grim)1470 –1520. These illustrations showed the private lives of rulers, their portraits and historical events; they depict weddings and especially circumcision festivities and Shecaatname-wars commanded by the pashas. The artists in Nakkashane-i Rum specialized in documentary books, like the Shehinshahname.

Seyyid Lokman was the court-appointed Şahnameci (writer), and Osman was the master painter who illustrated Seyyid Lokman’s narratives. They date back from the end of Suleyman’s reign to the beginning of Selim II’s reign. Some of their collaboration are; The “Zafername” (Book of Victories. DCB, No.413,) “book of kings, the Şahname-i Selim Han,” the story of Selim II’s sultanate (TSMK, A.3595), and the first volume of the Şehinşahname (Book of the King of Kings) describing events that occurred between the years 1574-81 during Murad III’s reign (IUK, F.1404).

The last Şahname to emerge from this collaboration between Lokman and Osman was the second volume of the Şehinşahname, which covers the years 1581-88 of Murad’s reign (TSMK, B.200). All These manuscripts are all the exact dimensions and layout, contain more than two hundred miniatures of a documentary nature, detailing critical architectural works, military campaigns and significant victories, important court ceremonies and celebrations, the sultans’ accession to the throne, and their deaths. The number of hours to create these masterpieces are priceless.

The second known imperial art studio is artists in Nakkashanei-i Irani, specializing in traditional Persian poetic works, like the Shahnameh, the Khamsa of Nizami, containing Layla and Majnun(Love Story), and the Iskendername or Romance of Alexander, Humayunname, animal fables, and anthologies. There were also scientific manuscripts on botany and animals, alchemy, cosmography, and medicine; technical books; love letters; books about astrology; and dream reading. Matrakçı Nasuh was a famous miniature painter during the reigns of Selim I and Suleyman the Magnificent. He created a new painting genre called a topographic painting. He painted cities, ports, and castles without any human figures and combined scenes observed from different viewpoints in one picture.

The reign of Süleyman (popularly known as “the Magnificent” or “the Lawmaker”) (r. 1520–66) witnessed the zenith of Ottoman art and culture. Among the most outstanding achievements of this period were the mosques and religious complexes built by Sinan (ca. 1500–1588), one of the most celebrated Islamic architects. and Nakkaş Osman (often known as Osman the Miniaturist) was the most critical miniature painter of the period, while Nigari developed portrait painting.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, with the patronage of Sultans Selim II (1566-74) and Murad III (1574-95). was a prolific period of Ottoman miniature painting. Apart from Istanbul, various cities in the provinces were also recognized as major artistic and commercial centers: Iznik was renowned for ceramics, Bursa for silks and textiles, Cairo for the production of carpets, and Baghdad for the arts of the manuscript.

The miniatures illustrating the manuscript were not signed because it was never the work of one person; in the studio ( nakkash-hane), there were the headmaster and his apprentice. We know there were sixteen painters, including three portraitists (Musafir) and thirteen muralists (nakkash). We can also confirm that the artist guild of 1526-27 and 1557-58, the imperial studio, had not only Turkish painters but Hungarians, Albanians, Circassians, Moldavians, and Persians artists who had the most significant influence.

Beginning from the reign of Mehmet II, every successor expanded Osmali’s territory, and by the end of the 16th century, Syria, Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt were included in the empire. From each newly conquered territory, the best artists of every kind were sent to the Capital to practice and teach their crafts to the Turk’s artists and artisans.

Under Suleyman I, subjects moved from Persian illustration to historical documentation. These significant works, individual portraits, and illustrated genealogies are more like social documents and representational. ( history of the siege of Szigeth ( Hungarian). During the reign of Murad III (1574-1595), the Ottoman miniatures reached their apogee. Historical achievements and Individual military campaigns were written and illustrated for each new Sultan. Under Murad III, the Master’s pieces of these works were two volumes (1584-1589) anthology. The first is a treaty of Suleyman I with forty-five miniatures, and the second is sixty-five true masterpieces by court painter Levni and Abdullah Bukhari.

The manuscript “Surname-i Vehbi, or Festival Book, is a commemoration celebrating the circumcision of Mehmet III, containing 437 illustrations from the studio of Abdulcelil Levni. Another Festival Book was prepared by the poet Vehbi, it commemorates the circumcision of four of the sons of Amed III in 1720, and it contains 138 miniatures. Religious manuscripts travel guidebooks, and story tales with unique illustrations can be viewed at the Topkapi Museum.

Westernization of Ottoman Art.

Another great artist is Levni Abdulcelil Celebi. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Ottoman Empire had excellent cultural and financial relations with Europe. That period can call “westernization.”Levni Abdülcelil Çelebi was among the most accomplished Ottoman painters of that period. Levni received the title of court painter under Sultan Mustafa II (r. 1695-1703) and Ahmet III (r. 1703-1730). Levni has made a series of sultans’ portraits, Bridging western and ottoman styles. His miniatures illustrate the book of Seyyid Vehbi, “the circumcision ceremonies of Sultan Ahmed III’s heirs to the throne (1720),” with 173 miniatures exhibiting his tremendous talent of observation and documentation reproduction.

But with each passing Sultan, fewer of them campaigned with their troops. Landscapes or portraits replaced the works that used to eulogize the expanding state and its monarchs. As the empire westernized, printing and photography were introduced, and miniature painting lost its appeal. The “Sublime Porte” by the nineteenth century was the “Sick Man of Europe.” In 1924 the new Republic of Turkey was under its first president Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal). Took over. the peaceful deposition of the last Sultan, pillar the palace was avoided. This smooth transition kept the Istanbul libraries and their painting intact.

Contemporary miniature artists include Ömer Faruk Atabek, Sahin Inaloz, Cahide Keskiner, Gülbün Mesara, Nur Nevin Akyazıcı, Ahmet Yakupoğlu, Nusret Çolpan, Orhan Dağlı, and many others from the new generation. Contemporary artists usually do not consider miniature painting as merely a decorative art but as a fine art form. Different from the traditional masters of the past, they work individually and sign their works. Also, their works are not illustrating books, as was the case with the original Ottoman miniatures, but are exhibited in fine art galleries.

Final Words

Miniature art is an underrated art that is limited to Eastern cultures. The closest thing to it in the western globe would be folk art which is also underrated as an art form. I hope this article will open your interest and curiosity about this great art form.

Reference: Turkish Miniature Paintings and Manuscripts by Edwin Binney.