Every construction of monumental dome mosques in Bosnia implied decorating of interior. If it had not been painted, the building would not be considered completed.

This article is a part of the project 'Promotion of the Ottoman Cultural Heritage of Bosnia and Turkey' which is organized by Monolit, Association for Promoting Islamic Arts and supported by the Republic of Turkey (YTB - T.C. BAŞBAKANLIK Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı / Prime Ministry, Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities).

image Mihrab from Ferhadija Mosque, decoration from 16th and 19th century / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

The wall paintings of the Ottoman period in Bosnia represent a great mystery for researchers, since this kind of art is almost completely destroyed and lost, although it is known that it was very developed in certain periods. Every construction of monumental dome mosques in Bosnia implied decorating of interior. If it had not been painted, the building would not be considered completed. Historical documents mention that each new mosque was painted. Even precise administrative data on such works are cited. In the Ottoman sources from the 16th century, the names of the painters originating from Bosnia and the dates of their work are recorded: Kasim - 1545, Mehmed - 1545 and 1557, Husein - 1545 and 1557, Pervan - 1557, Iskender - 1557, Ferhad - 1557, Ali - 1557, Hajdar - 1557 and Husrev - 1557, etc.

The dates prove that these artists were commissioned in the golden age of Ottoman art and that their role, at a time when being an average was not tolerated, was undoubtedly very significant. Evliya Celebi visited Bosnian cities in the 17th century. He was delighted to describe the decor of many mosques, as well as other monuments. Very valuable information about this art, but also for the artists, was written by Sarajevan chronicler Mula Mustafa Baseskija. Based on his notes, it can be concluded that in the 18th century there was an organized decorative art industry in Sarajevo, which coincides with the dates of great reconstruction and re-painting of some Sarajevo mosques. In the 18th century, the art of wall painting was developed by the calligraphic and decorative realization on the walls of the Sinan Tekke in Sarajevo, which has a high level of technical and artistic performance. In the 19th century wall painting got an intimate expression with local themes. The peak of such an approach can be seen in the exterior painting of the walls of the Sarena Mosque in Travnik and in the Miscina Mosque in Sarajevo, where the panoramas of Mecca and Medina were painted in the interior. Painting of mosques, but also other monuments, was an unavoidable tradition in the artistic practice of Bosnia, and every century brought special approach.

image L.Minber Cekrekcijina Mosque, 19th century decoration / R. Mihrab Carina Mosque, 19th century decoration / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

In the 19th century there were significant changes in Ottoman art and some influences from Europe, which were especially felt in ornamental art that largely abandoned earlier patterns. This, among other things, was noticeable in wall paintings. There are no major painting projects anymore, nor do they have the quality of the 16th century wall decoration. We have already said that the images from the Austro-Hungarian period did not give the expected results, except for some calligraphic panels. But, nevertheless, much of what was done in the 19th century should not be underestimated. The elements of the painting that spattered Bosnia at that time were noticeable in Turkey, when even landscapes are painted in mosques. Traditional elements are pursued, and preference is given to motifs such as pillars, draperies, volutes and grooms, emblems, flower bouquets, and so on. There was no longer room for traditional colourism, and the art of faience tiles was completely suppressed. Another thing noteworthy in Bosnia was wall paintings in the richer Bosniak houses.

A very high quality example of such art is seen in the preserved interior of Sabur's house at the National Museum in Sarajevo. The owners commissioned artists from Persia for this project. Very interesting painting of furniture can be seen in the Svrzo's house as well as on parts of the ceiling. At that time realistic floral motives were painted in Bosnia, which sporadically appear in mosques. It is a rustic decoration that has its origins in the East, that it has taken on some local forms in our area, including the free interpretation by artists. The most common motifs of this style are important and the cubes from which grow cypress trees, apples, or vines. It could be said that this was the prevailing style and that it met the aesthetic criteria of the general public. Some very serious artists like painter Faginović used similar motifs. There are two mosques in Sarajevo that have more of these decorations on their walls. However, in the 19th century until today mosques have been decorated with calligraphic panels and in large numbers. Over time, this has become a tradition that has suppressed painting of the walls.

From the later decorations the outer facade of the Suleymania Mosque (Sarena Mosque) in Travnik should be emphasized. This is a unique example of such art in Bosnia. Ornaments on the facade were made most probably immediately after the construction in 1815. A similar decoration can be seen on the interior walls of the building, which are by performance somewhat better than those of the exterior.

image Miscina Mosque Mekka by Mustafa Faginovic, 1870 / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

image Miscina Mosque Medina by Mustafa Faginovic, 1870 / Photo (c) IslamicArtsMagazine / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

As a unique example of wall paintings in Bosnia, two landscape paintings of Mecca and Medina, painted in the second half of the 19th century should be mentioned. They were painted by Hajji Mustafa Faginović in the Mišćina Mosque in Sarajevo. These are very large images, done in miniature style where the motif is viewed from the bird's eye view. There are a lot of very interesting details in the paintings, and most probably they are based on the authentic look of Mecca and Medina of that era and artist's own impression of these cities. It should not be ruled out that some parts of the paintings were based on authentic photographs of Mecca and Medina of that time. Both images leave a powerful impression on the observer because of their obvious religious impulse, but also the original artistic impression.

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