Article: Münevver Üçer Photos: Münevver Üçer / Mustafa Yılmaz
The art of illumination was initiated as decoration for other types of art, such as calligraphy and miniatures, and later recognized as an art in itself. Illumination, founded on palace grounds, has now taken its place on the global platform.
Decoration, which has a past almost as old as human history, has formed the foundation of the socialization processes of human beings, who have been living in communities since the beginning of time. This process, which began with wall paintings in caves, always reflected the values and likes of the community and era to which it belonged. From the art forms that we have brought in from Central Asia to Anatolia, which we call our traditional or classic art , the art of illumination is one of the most deeply rooted forms.
WHAT IS ILLUMINATION?
Illumination is the name given to decoration technique of old hand written books. It is the border decoration or edging of calligraphy frames, miniatures and imperial orders. The name tezhip is derived from ‘zehep’ in Arabic, meaning gold; therefore ‘tezhip’ can be translated as goldening. It is also possible to describe illumination as the clothing of the art of calligraphy. The art of illumination that emerged from stylization of living creatures in nature such as animals and plants is very strictly adhered to its rules.
Illumination, which developed with acceptance of Islam by the Turks, remains in our presence to this day. Initiated in the 8th and 9th centuries in Central Asia with frescoes in Bezek, the motifs used in illuminations have decorated Korans, plates, albums, signs, imperial orders, religious and many other hand written books.
AN ART FROM THE PALACE
Until today, illumination has been interpreted as border decoration or edging, or a type of dressing for book pages. Today though, illumination pieces dried in between the book pages are placed in frames to be exhibited. Nowadays, illumination is a separate form of art, and is rapidly advancing to find its well deserved place among universal standards, as a classical art form. Illumination, which is a palace based art form, has always been respected in Islamic culture. Illuminations applied by the master muralists and illuminators have found life in their dedicated workshops of the palace.
THE BEJEWELLED ROBE OF HANDWRITTEN BOOKS
In hand written books, the most important decorations are on the first page of the book, called ‘Zahriye,’ which is the page that displays the title of the book, the author, and to whom the book has been dedicated. After the ‘Zahriye’ page, the text begins with page in the book including ‘Serlevha’ style borders, duplicate designs that are symmetric on each adjacent set of pages. The edges of the text will typically include illumination or the top of the page might display a crown done in the same style format. On the middle pages, there are illuminations inside rosette shapes, with other special shapes within them, called “hizip, secde, vakıf, cüz and aşer”. The last page of a handwritten book is called ‘Hatime,’ where the name of the calligrapher and the date the book was written are present. In these pages, illuminations are respectively lighter. Due to the materialistic and moral value of the book, the quality of the materials used, ability of the masters who wrote and decorated the book make it unique.
LANGUAGE OF THE MOTIFS
The Turkish art of illumination is a branch of art nourished with motifs rooted in Central Asia, developed and diversified with the acceptance of Islam, glorified with Islamic rules forming stylized, semi-stylized and naturalist styles. The restrictions of Islam made drawings more difficult for the artists, who interpreted nature within the bounds of their religious beliefs and produced motifs which we refer to as ‘stylized.’ When the art of illumination intervened with Islam, the Central Asian hatai, penç, gonca, yaprak, münhani, rumi and bulut motifs were widely used. These motifs are still used today, strictly adhering to the originals.Having turned our faces to western art in the 17th century, the art of illumination was affected by Baroque or Rococo styles, which we call ‘Eclectic,’ but never had the austerity, conformity and flamboyance of the Classical period. Besides these orderly motifs, also bouquets of flowers, called ‘Şukufe’ or flowers drawn individually in a naturalist style, put their mark on a certain period of the art of illumination. Tulips, carnations, roses, irises, daffodils and others are decorative elements, each one of which can set the background for an entire book in this art.
Gold, which is the basic material that has given its name to this form of art, is also the determinant of production techniques. Illumination starts with transferring sketches onto special paper called ‘murakka.’ The work begins with the application of gold. The colored motifs are contoured using a very fine brush, and later the base colors are applied. The latest stage is the shadowing of the motifs. This style in which motifs and designs are made on a small scale is called ‘tezhip.’Another important technique in this form of art is called ‘Halkar.’ This is a technique which designs drawn on larger scales are watered using crushed gold. The watered gold that is drawn from the bottom of the motifs to the top is finalized by contouring with gold again. When colored contours are applied instead of gold, the style of contouring is called ‘şikaf.’
SYMBOL OF ETERNITY
In the southern region of Central Asia, pressed gold has been used in form of thin leaves, since the 3rd and 4th centuries. This Central Asian craftsmanship and with the Turks migration into Anatolia, the art was continued by applying crushed gold with a brush or gluing the pressed gold onto the paper. Gold, which is the symbol of eternity, is also a flag of flamboyance, power and splendor, and when required, is also symbol of purity.
From production techniques to materials, designs to styles, our art of illumination is applied onto numerous art works, ranging from classical applications to new contemporary interpretations. Our artists, who have managed to combine the universal language of art with ethnic feelings, have started to produce works in global art platforms.
The special paper that is produced solely for Illumination art. Four layers of paper facing each other are glued together with a glue called ‘muhallebi-milk pudding.’ This paper is then set to endure hundreds of years.
First-published originals of traditional examples of the Ottoman art of illumination from the Turkish Islamic Art Museum collection.
The names given to illumination artists. The male artist being the Müzehhib, and the female artist, the Müzehhibe.
The name given to the application of crushed gold or gold leaves to the working surface homogeneously, using a sieve. The meaning of the word is ‘small gold pieces.’