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Turkish arts

Islamic Art varies substantially from Western Art due primarily to restrictions in the Koran on depicting the human form. Rather than being representational of the profane world, the perfection of Ottoman art lies in the pure balance of color, line and rhythm in geometric patterns and designs.

Of the Ottoman arts, Calligraphy was the most important. Such mundane items as tax reports, property deeds and imperial edicts became exquisite works of art. This aptly reflects the bureaucratic nature of the empire, with its stress on writing and registering. Turkish calligraphers contributed to the development of new and more ornate styles of calligraphy. Each of the sultans had their own monogram in stylized script, called a Tugra. Sultan Ahmet III and Sultan Bayezit II were skilled calligraphers. In 1928 Ataturk introduced the Latin alphabet, sounding the death knell of the art of Arabic calligraphy in Turkey. Many of the greatest works were preserved in the extensive Ottoman archives and can be seen at Topkapi Palace and Ibrahim Pasha Museum (Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts).

Marbled paper or “Ebru” is an art form that was developed in Turkey in the fifteenth century. Mineral and vegetable dyes are sprinkled on water mixed with gum and the gall fluid of cattle, over which a sheet of paper is laid, creating unique and unrepeatable patterns. Traditionally, this paper was used for borders on Ottoman panels and miniatures, and for the inside covers and flyleaves of books. Today mass-produced marbled paper is used for such purposes, though the art of marbling continues.

Meerschaum (Lületasi) is a mineral substance found only in Turkey, from which pipes and ornaments have been hand-carved since the 1700’s. Meerschaum, contrary to popular belief, is not the fossilized remains of sea creatures, but a mineral: Hydrous Magnesium Silicate, it is found from 30 to 450 feet below the surface of the earth near the town of Eskisehir. Meerschaum’s magnesium content provides strength while the hydrogen and oxygen contribute porosity. As one of nature’s lightest and most porous substances, Meerschaum is a natural filter. This natural absorbency causes the pipe to slowly change color, eventually turning rich brown color, filtering the nicotine. As few Turks smoke pipes, they are made mostly for export.

Under the Byzantines Constantinople (Istanbul) nearly bankrupted itself obtaining huge amounts of silk from China via the silk route, needed for the production of vast quantities of religious vestments and decorations. In the sixth century, a number of the closely guarded silkworm eggs were stolen by two Russian monks and brought to Constantinople. Silk making quickly became a huge industry, centered in Bursa, and was inherited by the Ottomans when they replaced the Byzantines. Today, Bursa is still an important textile center, famous for its salt-dye techniques.

The art of embroidery most likely traveled west with the Turkic nomads from their Central Asian homelands. It was widely used; the military equipment of the Selcuk and Ottoman soldiers included tents, pavilions, banners, saddles and holsters richly embroidered with motifs and battle scenes, many of which are preserved in the Military Museum in Harbiye, Istanbul. Religious hangings for mosques, prayer carpets and Koranic cases were covered in graceful floral patterns in delicate colors offset with silver and gold. Many of the items of daily life, such as towels, bed coverings and veils were similarly adorned. For the Ottoman Court, silk brocades and velvets were elaborately for ceremonial purposes, often using gold or silver threads on purple velvet. Embroidery designs were based on the geometric and floral patterns used in ceramics and woven silks, though motifs and styles varied from village to village. But tulip design had always a special place in peoples heart. Some embroidery was commercially produced in workshops where men and some Christian women worked, but the quality and originality of this work was slightly inferior. The women of the harems produced magnificent work for their dowries (Çeyiz) or trousseaux and to grace their bridal chambers on their wedding nights. This art form reached its creative peak in the 16th century and then was revived again around 100 years ago with the establishment of Girls Technical Schools where it is still commonly taught. Many excellent examples can be seen in the Topkapi Museum and the Sadberk Hanim Museum in Sariyer - Istanbul, or bought in the Grand Bazaar. 

Like traditional crafts everywhere, embroidery is being killed by cheap technology. However, most grandmothers still pass their time ornamenting bed coverings and clothes for their grandchildren. The Black Sea resort of Sile specializes in the production of embroidered cotton clothing, towels and tablecloths.

Turkish painting in the western sense only began in the 19th century, with the founding by Osman Hamdi Bey, himself an accomplished painter, of the Academy of Fine Arts. Turkish painters were sent to France and Italy by the Sultan, and foreign painters, mostly Italian, were brought from Europe to transfer their skills. Today this academy is known as Mimar Sinan University.

Ottoman Art consisted mainly of the traditional forms outlined above, with the exception of Turkish Miniatures. The Sultans and elite who patronized this often representational art, kept their paintings for private viewing, fearful of the religious zeal of the public. Miniature painters were divided into two categories; those who painted decorative murals and flowers, and the smaller number, many of whom were non-Muslims, who painted portraits, sieges and battle-scenes. Turkish miniatures are not as famous as Persian ones, although they are often more moving and powerful, due to the stronger shades used and to a greater attention to detail.

It was only in the 19th century that a Turkish painting movement in the Western sense occurred, with the founding by Osman Hamdi Bey of the Academy of Fine Arts (now the Mimar Sinan University School of Fine Arts). The Sultans began to bring foreign painters, mostly Italian or French, to live as court painters, and Turkish painters were sent abroad to learn from European masters. Among the best known of the early Ottoman painters are Osman Hamdi Bey, Seker Ahmet Pasha, Hoca Ali Riza, Sevket Dag , Ahmet Ziya and Halil Pasha. They were primarily landscape painters, with few portraits. In 1919 the Ottoman Society of Painters held their first exhibition in Galatasaray - Istanbul. Following the War, impressionism was a major influence on Turkish painters. The most successful impressionist painter was Halil Pasha. Painting continued to develop through the thirties and forties, with increased emphasis on design and subject matter. The abstract and cubist movements were popular in Turkey, the best known painters in this genre are Sabri Berkel, Halil Dikmen, Cemal Bingöl and Semsettin Arel. Today’s Turkish artists are no longer bound in subject or design by their past, and a wide range of techniques and approaches are being used by the many artists at work today. There is an ever - increasing number of art galleries showcasing these young talents, with regular exhibitions of new work.
The bracelet is a very ancient form of human adornment, and the designs of the earliest surviving examples suggest that, like so many other types of jewelry, they were originally a form of talisman or magic charm. The first bracelets were made of wood, stone, and soft metals occurring naturally in their metallic state, primarily gold and copper .As technology developed over the millennia it became possible to extract and work silver and other metals. Today bracelets are as popular as ever.  Stylistically  they fall into two categories, what we might call the classical imitating old forms, and modern designs in abstract and original styles.

All women, from the queen in her palace to the rural woman in her cottage, whatever their income or cultural level, have always enjoyed wearing bracelets. But apart from their decorative qualities, bracelets have had other functions. For example, copper bracelets are still believed to relieve pains in the joints, and in former times bracelets containing agate, a stone regarded as sacred amongst the Turks were believed to protect the weaver against bites by venomous animals. Bloodstones, meanwhile, were believed to stop bleeding.

Gold bracelets studded with precious stones were preferred by the wealthy, but silver was also used to make some of the finest bracelets in which the colored stones showed up against the white metal to wonderful effect. Silver puts up with the forging process with all the patience of a dervish suffering oppression and deprivation. When red hot it is drawn out into wire, or placed on a bed of pitch and designs hammered into the surface. Studded with stones, patterns chiseled out for niello designs, gold plated using mercury, or decorated with tiny silver drops to produce the jeweled effect known as Güverse, the bracelet completes its trial by fire on the forge and is ready to encircle the wrist of a loved one.

A wide range of other techniques are used to make or decorate silver bracelets. One of the loveliest is filigree, and similar types woven with circular or flat silver wire. Another is engraving. Often two or more techniques are combined in a single bracelet, and some techniques are associated with the place where they are commonly made, such as Trabzon Hasiri - a type of filigree bracelet, Kayseri Burmasi and Halep isi.

Although in the past hundreds of different types of bracelet were made, often the same craftsman making several types or developing innovations of his own, relatively few antique Turkish bracelets have survived. Even the names by which they were known are often not remembered today. As well as types known after the cities where they were most commonly made, there were names describing the forms, such as kabara (boss), kubbeli (domed), zincirli (chain), koruklu and tankli (also known as bascavus) bracelets.

Bracelets worn around the ankle are called halhal, an Arabic word meaning ankle. These are worn in many countries from Africa to India, including the eastern and southeast parts of Turkey. Traditionally halhal were made from a string of hollow spheres containing tiny metal beads, so that they made a pleasant tinkling sound as well as looking attractive. Rural women used to their children so that when they were busy working in the fields and orchards they could hear where they were playing even when they were out of sight, and would be warned by the sound if they strayed off.

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