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Ottoman miniature painters

Ottoman miniature (Turkish: Osmanlı minyatürü) is a style of illustration found in Ottoman manuscripts, often depicting portraits or historic events. Its unique style was developed from multiple cultural influences, such as the Persian Miniature art, as well as Byzantine and Mongol art.[1][2] It was a part of the Ottoman book arts, together with illumination (tezhip), calligraphy (hat), marbling paper (ebru), and bookbinding (cilt). The words taswir or nakish were used to define the art of miniature painting in Ottoman Turkish.

While Ottoman miniatures have been very much inspired by Persian miniatures, Ottoman artisans developed a unique style that separated themselves from their Persian influences.[3] Ottoman miniatures are known specifically for their factual accounts of things such as military events, whereas Persian miniatures were more focused on being visually interesting.[4][1] The inclusion of miniatures in Ottoman manuscripts was more for the purpose of documentation, and less about aesthetics.[3] Miniatures were used to demonstrate many important chronicles and themes, especially historical and religious events.[3] Ottoman miniatures are particularly known for their specific and accurate details.[5] This can be found in many miniatures of armies or court scenes.[3]

Some Ottoman artists were more influenced by Persian miniatures than others.[3] Ottoman miniatures with strong influences from the Persian style tended towards a more romanticized account of events, which strayed away from the more typical factual accounts of other Ottoman miniature paintings.[3]

Original procedure

The head painter of the miniature typically designed the composition of the scene, and his apprentices drew the contours (which were called tahrir) with black or colored ink and then painted the miniature without making an illusion of third dimension. The head painter and the scribe of the text were named and depicted in some of the manuscripts, however the apprentices were not. In the thirteenth century, author portraits were very common in Islamic manuscripts.[2] The portraits would depict the author of the manuscript as the largest figure, and would sometimes include other smaller figures that had contributed to the manuscript as well.[2] At the end of the manuscript would be a colophon, which provided details about when the manuscript was completed and the author’s name.[6]

The colors for the miniature were obtained by ground powder pigments mixed with egg-white [7] and, later, with diluted gum arabic. The produced colors were vivid. Contrasting colors used side by side with warm colors further emphasized this quality. The most used colors in Ottoman miniatures were bright red, scarlet, green, and different shades of blue.

The understanding of perspective was different from that of the nearby European Renaissance painting tradition. In many Islamic manuscripts, images depicted multiple perspectives, for example, both the inside and outside of a building could be displayed in one image.[8] Additionally, miniature paintings were often used to articulate movement and time passing in a single image.[8] Miniatures acted as illustrations to the text and utilized storytelling in their imagery which made them just as necessary as the text itself.[8]

The Ottoman miniature painting tradition was unique in that artists did not strive to depict their subjects realistically.[5] Some scholars believe that this style of painting developed from shadow puppetry, on account of the sharp geometric edges, as well as the intricate architectural designs.[9] Additionally, the lack of third-dimensional shading and constant use of empty space suggest that shadow theater played a role in the development of Ottoman miniature painting.[9]

History and development

Early history

Portrait of a painter during the reign of Mehmed II

There is a relative lack of information about the book-making centers in the 15th century Ottoman Empire, but there is a record in the Ottoman Archives from 1525 that indicates a nakkaşhane (studio) in Istanbul.[10] It references a complex hierarchical structure, which indicates that the studio had existed for likely 50 years before this record was written.[10] This is not, however, to say that there is no evidence of production, for example: the existence of an album of calligraphy and drawings in 1481 also indicates a distinctly Ottoman studio in Istanbul.[11] But there is no distinct evidence of illustration in the Ottoman Empire prior to the conquest of Istanbul in 1453.[11]

The first indication of a flourishing school of painters laid out the fundamentals of Ottoman Miniature under Mehmed II in 1451-81 but there is much more evidence of productivity in the following reign of Bayezid II (1481-1512), and there are references to specific artists under his employment.[11] The reign of Mehmed II (1451-81) is the first time that Ottoman miniature paintings are definitively created. It is worth noting that there is no archival documentation of the works, and the selection is rather limited.[10] Esin Atil describes some of the miniatures executed during Mehmed's reign as "crude and provincial", resulting from a relative lack of examples, perhaps indicating a lack of illustrated books in imperial libraries.[11]

For more information on painting under Mehmed II, see Nakkaş Sinan Bey.

The Safavid dynasty's stylistic and iconographic details had great influence on the style of Ottoman miniature painting.[12] This is partially due to Selim I's conquest of Safavid Tabriz in 1514, in which he captured many manuscripts and brought them back to Istanbul, allowing the artists there to expand their iconographical and stylistic influence.[12] Much of the illustrations in Ottoman manuscripts were constructed by referencing previous depictions of the subject, resulting in a heavy influence from past works.[13] There were also some artists themselves moving from Tabriz and other cities in Iran to the Ottoman Empire.[14]

The Nakkashane-i Irani (the Persian Academy of Painting) was founded in Topkapı Palace for imported Persian artists. The artists of these two painting academies formed two different schools of painting: The artists in Nakkashane-i Rum were specialized in documentary books, like the Shehinshahname, showing the public, and to some extent the private, lives of rulers, their portraits and historical events; Shemaili Ali Osman—portraits of rulers; Surname—pictures depicting weddings and especially circumcision festivities; Shecaatname-wars commanded by pashas. The artists in Nakkashanei-i Irani specialized in traditional Persian poetic works, like the Shahnameh, the Khamsa of Nizami, containing Layla and Majnun and the Iskendername or Romance of Alexander, Humayunname, animal fables, and anthologies. There were also scientific books on botany and animals, alchemy, cosmography, and medicine; technical books; love letters; books about astrology; and dream reading [citation needed].

These early studios relied on the commissions of the wealthy and powerful, including governors, and even emperors.[15] Massumeh Farhad argues that Mehmed II commissioned works in attempts to achieve immortality as influenced by extensive contact with the Italians.[11]

Emergence of Imperial Style

16th century map of Miyaneh by Matrakçı Nasuh
Topkapı Palace during the reign of Selim I

During the 1520's, the Ottoman miniature style settled, as exemplified by the Selimnâme, which was completed in 1524 and chronicled Sultan Selim 1's life, and contains contemporary costumes and events.[16] In 1527 there were 29 miniaturists in the Ottoman Court Archives.[16]

Two miniaturists aided in this development, Nakkaş Osman, and Matrakçı Nasuh. Nakkaş Osman seems to have exemplified the Ottoman visual language of miniature in the mid 1500's, which was characterized by a move away from Italian visual style towards the East.[15] Matrakçı Nasuh was a famous miniature painter during the reigns of Selim I and Suleyman the Magnificent. In his work on Beyan-i Menazil-i Sefer-i Irakeyn-i Sultan Suleyman (Description of the stages of the campaign of Sultan Suleyman in the two Iraqs), c. 1537 (Istanbul University LIbrary 5967), he created a new painting genre called topographic painting.[1] He painted cities, ports, and castles without any human figures and combined scenes observed from different viewpoints in one picture.[1]

During the reigns of Selim II (1566–1574) and Murad III (1574–1595), the classical Ottoman miniature style was created. The renowned miniature painters of the period were Nakkaş Osman, Ali Çelebi, Molla Kasım, Hasan Pasha, and Lütfi Abdullah [citation needed].

Ottoman miniatures reached their peak in the last half of the 1500's, and compositions were largely based on the established representations in miniature, utilizing a 'vocabulary'.[16] This style was partly characterized by a focus on everyday life,[16] a relatively limited palette,[1] bright colors,[1] high levels of detail,[1] and minimal use of the 3/4 perspective.[1] By 1557 the number of miniaturists recorded in the Ottoman court increased to 35.[16]

Near the end of the 16th century (1590), Baghdad's school of painting was flourishing.[17] After the Mongols sacked the city it stopped being a center of illustrated book production, but it re-emerged as such in 1590 and there was a greater focus on everyday activities than in other locations.[17] Not only was there a move away from fantastical depictions, but also from royal contexts, and many miniatures focused instead on daily life of lower classes as a result.[17]

Later shifts

In the 17th century, miniature painting was also popular among the citizens of Istanbul. Artists known as bazaar painters" (Turkish: çarşı ressamları) worked with other artisans in the bazaars of Istanbul at the demand of citizens.[18]

Begüm Özden Firat suggests a shift away from imperial commission after the 18th century in his book "Encounters with the Ottoman Miniature".[15] He says this was at least partly because of miniaturists in Istanbul who did not have to answer to the same constraints as imperially commissioned miniaturists, the expansion of materials available, the establishment of murakkas (a type of album which contained a wide variety of examples of a genre) of miniatures, and the rise of new miniature painting schools.[15]

Because of interactions with Europe (an increasing interest in European art and architecture) in the 18th century, methods and subjects of miniature painting changed.[15] For example, artists began to utilize watercolor as opposed to the traditional gum arabic mixed with pigment.[15] By the end of the 18th century, landscapes and oil portraits on canvas usurped the miniature as the dominant art form.[15] Because of contact with Italy, the basic elements of Renaissance portraiture, such as portraying the whole body, volume in the torso, and shading of the face begin to be reflected in paintings from Istanbul.[11] In the 18th century, the greater Western influence shifted the focus to one that was more subjective, to art rather than documentation.[1]

A new cultural genre known in Ottoman history as the Tulip period occurred during the reign of Ahmed III. Some art historians attribute the birth of the unique style called Ottoman Baroque to this period. The characteristics of the period carried the influences of French baroque[citation needed].

Abdülcelil Celebi, better known as Levni was a prominent painter during the 18th century, and exemplifies some of these shifts.[1][15] Maryam Mesinch refers to the Sürname-i Vehbi as Levni's masterpiece, made to record the "circumcision feast of the sons of Sultan Ahmet III".[19] Artisans, theatre groups, clowns, musicians, trapeze dancers, and citizens joined in the festivities [citation needed].

Changing Function

After Levni, Westernization of Ottoman culture continued, and with the introduction of printing press and later photography, fewer illustrated were produced. From then on, wall paintings or oil paintings on cloth were popular [citation needed]. The miniature painting's function thus changed.

Contemporary Turkish miniature

Main article: Contemporary Turkish miniature

After a period of crisis in the beginning of the 20th century, miniature painting was accepted as a decorative art by the intellectuals of the newly founded Turkish Republic, and in 1936, a division called Turkish Decorative Arts was established in the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, which included miniature painting together with the other Ottoman book arts. The historian and author Süheyl Ünver educated many artists following the tradition of Ottoman book arts [citation needed].

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 [citation needed].


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mesinch, Maryam (December 2017). "A Comparative Analysis of Factors Influencing the Evolution of Miniature in Safavid and Ottoman Periods". International Journal of Cultural and Social Studies (3).
  2. ^ a b c Hoffman, Eva R. (1993). "The Author Portrait in Thirteenth-Century Arabic Manuscripts: A New Islamic Context for a Late-Antique Tradition". Muqarnas. 10: 6–20. doi:10.2307/1523167. ISSN 0732-2992. JSTOR 1523167.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Titley, Norah M. (1983). "Early Ottoman Miniature Painting: Two Recently Acquired Manuscripts in the British Library". The British Library Journal. 9 (2): 124–139. ISSN 0305-5167. JSTOR 42554184.
  4. ^ Grabar, Oleg (1962). "Review of Turkish Miniature Painting". Middle East Journal. 16 (2): 260–261. ISSN 0026-3141. JSTOR 4323485.
  5. ^ a b Sakisian, A. (1945). "Turkish Miniatures". The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. 87 (510): 224–232. ISSN 0951-0788. JSTOR 869090.
  6. ^ Fetvaci, Emi̇Ne (2013). Picturing History at the Ottoman Court. Indiana University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctvsn3nrr. ISBN 978-0-253-00678-3. JSTOR j.ctvsn3nrr.
  7. ^ "Turkish Miniatures". Turkish Cultural Foundation. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Roxburgh, David J. (March 2003). "Micrographia: Toward a Visual Logic of Persianate Painting". Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 43: 12–30. doi:10.1086/RESv43n1ms20167587. ISSN 0277-1322.
  9. ^ a b George, Alain F. (2011). "THE ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE MAQĀMĀT AND THE SHADOW PLAY". Muqarnas Online. 28 (1): 1–42. doi:10.1163/22118993-90000172. hdl:20.500.11820/50a7e1b2-9464-4a9b-8d10-8b4cbca82338. ISSN 0732-2992.
  10. ^ a b c Atil, Esin (1973). "Ottoman Miniature Painting under Sultan Mehmed II". Ars Orientalis. 9: 103–120. ISSN 0571-1371. JSTOR 4629273.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Farhad, Massumeh (2023-12-15). "Ottoman Miniature Painting under Sultan Mehmed II". Ars Orientalis. 53. doi:10.3998/ars.4979. ISSN 0571-1371.
  12. ^ a b Mesinch, Maryam (December 2017). "A Comparative Analysis of Factors Influencing the Evolution of Miniature in Safavid and Ottoman Periods". International Journal of Cultural and Social Studies (3).
  13. ^ Perl, AnnMarie (2011). "3". In Ying-Ling Huang, Michelle (ed.). Beyond Boundaries: East and West Cross-Cultural Encounters. 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 53–58. ISBN 978-1-4438-3294-6.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location (link)
  14. ^ Yoltar-Yildirim, Aysin (2022). "The Question of Well-Rounded Artists of the Book at the Ottoman Court in the Early 16th Century". Art and Culture of Books in the Islamic World. 11: 659–667 – via Academia.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Özden Fırat, Begüm (2015). Encounters with the Ottoman miniature: contemporary readings of an imperial art. International library of visual culture. London New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-78076-391-0.
  16. ^ a b c d e Perl, AnnMarie (2011). "3". In Ying-Ling Huang, Michelle (ed.). Beyond Boundaries: East and West Cross-Cultural Encounters. 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 53–58. ISBN 978-1-4438-3294-6.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location (link)
  17. ^ a b c Milstein, Rachel (1990). Miniature painting in Ottoman Baghdad. Islamic art and architecure. Costa Mesa: Mazdâ. ISBN 978-0-939214-60-0.
  18. ^ A definition made by Metin And, in 17. Yüzyıl Türk çarşı ressamları. Tarih ve Toplum, no. 16 (April 1985): pp. 40–44
  19. ^ Mesinch, Maryam (December 2017). "A Comparative Analysis of Factors Influencing the Evolution of Miniature in Safavid and Ottoman Periods". International Journal of Cultural and Social Studies (3).


Further reading