The compositions in 19th century were more and more complex and artists aspired to perfect effects and gracefulness.

This article is 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).

In 19th century, Ottoman Empire was going throw different political and social changes. The independence movements in Bosnia, Albania, Egypt and Arabia threatened to ruin its territory. From another side, suspension of the military movement of Janissaries (in 1826) brought about the violence and institutional crises. The modernization process brought about the establishing the Tanzimat (reorganization in the period of 1839-1870), which included political, social and cultural reforms. Non-Islamic religious minorities got their rights and organization (at that time, hundreds of new church were built). By the half of the century, the sultan divan passes from the Topkapi Palace to newly built residence Domalbahce that was completely done in European architectural manner.

image Calligraphic panel by Izzet, 1893, Gazi Husrev Beg Library / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

Everything mentioned points that, at that time, Ottoman Empire started losing its original identity, although such conclusion might be half-cocked. No matter that some European values (as the echo of the French revolution) penetrated in everyday life, in 19th century, the spirit of Islam stayed dominant. Sultan was still the supreme political authority and the idea of hilafet and unity of Islamic world was there in politics as well as in the minds of ordinary people. From the aspect of the cultural politics, Ottoman Empire started to open to the others, however, the question is in what way were foreign influences critically accepted. The architecture was already transformed as it was full of classical and rococo elements. Although the mosques remained recognizable, Ottoman, they were no more on the trace of earlier traditions.

However, regarding some other branches of art, like calligraphy, we can make different conclusions. Besides many other cultural turbulences, its development in 19th century was extraordinary and on the region of the entire empire. Considering the calligraphy being the origin of Islamic arts, based on the originality of Arabic script, its development could not at all influence others, nor the European painting could endanger the calligraphy as the main art. Another reason of its preservation was the need to try to keep one completely specific art act in the time of crisis, and as the supreme aesthetic reflection of the Islamic spirituality. In many ways, the calligraphy was the last defence line in preserving Islamic arts as a 'living' artistic activity. At that time, its rise was due more to the individuals than to the political institutions.

image Calligraphic panel by Mehmed Beg Kapetanovic Muhibija, 1889, Gazi Husrev Beg Library / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

At the second half of the century, the schools were the strongholds of calligraphy, at the time when old esnaf system started to deteriorate. Those were half-open 'academies' that were artistic workshops where the close relationship between teachers and students was cherished. Some of those schools were very appreciated because they were founded and lead by the greatest calligraphers of that time, becoming the concurrence to the newly founded academies (an art academy was founded in Istanbul in 1883) and public schools where the classical painting was studied. Some of greatest names of Ottoman calligraphy of all times appear in 19th century, such as: Sami Effendi (1837-1914), Mustafa Rakim (1757-1826), Mehmed Izet Effendi (1841-1903), Mustafa Izzet (1801-1876), Sefik Bey (1819-1880), Hasan Riza (1849-1920), Hulusi Effendi (1869-1940) and so on. Even the sultans started to write, and among them, Mahmud II (1784-1839) and AbdulMadžid (1823-1861) were distinguished as very good calligraphers.

Due to all of this, the 19th century could be called one of most important periods of Ottoman calligraphy, equally productive and innovative as the earlier centuries. As the result, there was large artistic production and development of new stylistic qualities. So, the new calligraphic compositions appear in the form of tugra (this quality is introduced by Mustafa Rakim with the redefinition of the sultan tugra. The distinguished masters of writting tugra were also Sami Effendi, Ismail Hakki Altunbezer and Ahmed Seid from Bosnia). Sami Effendi affirms the style of Zerendut, the calligraphy written in gold or white colour on the black base. The compositions in 19th century were more and more complex and artists aspired to perfect effects and gracefulness. The script thuluth that was popular also earlier was additionally improved now and the taliq was dominating in the creation of inscriptions. It is interesting to note that calligraphic albums were replaced by the calligraphic panels and compositions that dominated in the early centuries. That is also the time when independent artists are distinguished, the ones that are not professionally tied to the sultan workshops.

image Calligraphic panel 19th century, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

Regarding the illumination of the manuscripts (teshib), that is quite another story. Previous motifs are lost, and decorative elements of European art are adopted, such as vignettes, wreaths, emblems, flowers in vintages, volutes, and so on. The artists generally aspired to more realistic painting of the floral samples. The new decorative forms were being designed as the hybrids of the western and eastern influences. Among the colours, they started to use pink, violet and light green, which was unthinkable before. Among the illuminated manuscripts of that time we can certainly discover many valuable works that mainly, or completely lose the connection to the previous centuries which is saying a lot about the change of the taste and feeling for the aesthetic of the 19th century artists that were convinced that they are putting a new seal and even a new quality to the Ottoman art.

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