EBRÛ ARTIST: BİROL BİÇER - AHMET BİLAL ARSLAN - GÖKÇE PEHLİVANOĞLU
The art of Ebrû had a great impact in the 17th century, so much so that it was called the "Ebrûmania"era. Today, the most beautiful ebrûs are still being made in İstanbul.
In the 16th century, even if they did not draw too much attention, there were papers painted with colourful mixed designs among souvenirs such as carpets, beads and books, taken back by European explorers, after paying a visit to Ottoman lands. Even the memorandum books, “album amicorums” that these explorers had signed by their friends were bound with paper of unmatched colours and designs. This is how the Europeans got acquainted with the art of ebrû, through the marbled papers decorating their memos.
These exotic papers, designed with many colourful patterns obtained by sprinkling dye over condensed water were liked by the “Francs” and they become interested. These papers became collectors item in time, and were called “Turkish Paper” (Papiers Turc) because of their origin, or “marbled paper” (Papiers Marbré) due to their appearance. The papers bought from the Ottoman lands in the 1600s, became far more widespread than expected a century later and became an indispensible material for bookbinder; and after that an era started which could have been called “Ebrûmania”. There was even a semi-automatic ebrû machine designed to meet the high demand for binding paper.
THE LODGE WHERE THE DERVISHES WERE INVOLVED IN EBRÛ
However, the adventure of the art of ebrû was not so lively in its homeland. For a long time, ebrû was left aside, content with being a side line production for the arts of calligraphy and bookbinding. Light coloured marbled papers were used for a certain period as official papers for communication. Although ebrû has always been seen as a modest member of the art of paper making, it has had to wait until the end of the 20th century and the present day to be accepted as an individual form of art. In contrast to its adventure in the west, this art developed quietly, in the hands of a few minor dervishes, in a very slow and modest manner. As a result of having been implemented by a religious group for such a long period, the art of ebrû arrives to the present day bearing a certain mystique.
On the way up to Çamlıca from Üsküdar, the Özbekler Lodgeis located on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, is also known as – please, let it not be misunderstood – the “Kaaba of ebrûli”. What makes it so important is that a considerable amount of ebrû was made here and the art of ebrû survived here.
AN OTTOMAN ART WITH ROOTS IN CENTRAL ASIA
Although it has spread to the world from the Ottomans, the roots of ebrû go back to old Central Asia. However, it is not very clear who first thought of floating dyes on the surface of water and later making the patterns permanent by transferring them onto paper. It is said that the oldest marbled paper known in history belonged to Iranian calligrapher Malik-i Deylemi in a form known as “light ebrû”, which is a light coloured marbling of a single colour. Iranians claim that the art of ebrû belongs to them.
The oldest book available on the art and technique of ebrû is a hand written book called “Tertib-i Risale-i Ebri” (Booklet of Ebrû Arrangements), which dates back to 1608.
The art of ebrû was practiced in India and Turkistan, too. According to one theory, the roots of ebrû go back to the 9th century when Samarkand was a centre of culture. It is considered that in those days, besides the various types of papers produced by many paper producers, marbled papers were developed too. It is known that marbled papers were made in Samarkand in the 13th century and in Herat in the 14th century.
The oldest master known in the art of ebrû is Şebek Mehmet Efendi. By writing his book Tertib-i Risale-i Ebri he contributed greatly to the art of ebrû, explaining how ebrû was made and what materials were used in those days. Mehmet Efendi, who lived 3 centuries ago and was also the speaker at Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), introduced for the first time flower and rosette shapes to the figures. For this reason, these types of patterns are still called “Hatip Ebrûsu” (Speaker’s Ebrû). The introduction of ebrû to the Özbekler Lodge was with Şeyh Sadık Efendi, who learned this art in Buhara. After his death in 1846 his legacy passed in turn to his sons Nazif and Şeyh Ethem Efendi, who was nicknamed “Hazerfen” because of his intellectuality and his capabilities in different fields. Later, it was passed on to Sami Efendi and Aziz Efendi and then to Necmettin Okyay and his sons towards the middle of the 20th century. Ebrû, which was practiced by fewer people each day, turned into a form of art that survived because of the Özbekler Lodge. The Özbekler tradition extends to Mustafa Düzgünman, who was taught by Necmettin Okyay. Necmettin Okyay, who was also a great calligrapher, re-designed the floral patterns and made the first ebrûs with inscriptions. In this way he opened up a new path in the art of ebrû. Mustafa Düzgünman, who was also the tomb keeper for Hüdai, continued practicing the art of ebrû in his herb shop in Üsküdar until 1989. After this date, the art of ebrû became popular again and is almost booming now. Today, the most beautiful ebrûs in the world are still made in Istanbul.