Oriental rulers never paid much attentian ta the pra hi-bition on figurative art. The Omayyad and Abbasid caliphs had the walls of their palaces decorated with murals featuring human and animal figures. The magnificent architecture of the Seljuks was adorned with sculpture, and above all in the great palaces of Eastern rulers miniature painting developed. The roots of this type of painting can be traced back to the pre-Islamic period. Miniature painting passed by turn from the Timurid and Türkmen states, to the Safovids of Iran, the Seljuks and the Ottomans.
Sultan Mehmed II was the first Ottoman sultan to display an interest in the art of figurative painting, hiring famous nakkaş and musavvir to execute paintings on some of the palace walls. He was the first to have his portrait painted by a Western artist (Bellini), and started the collection of works by Eastern and Western artists which was later to become known as the Fatih Album.
But Mehmed II’s successors did not take the same interest in figurative painting, and Ottoman miniature painting survived only as the art of book
THE MINIATURE PAINTER
Ottoman miniature paintings are less ornate, have a more straight forward narrative style, and are remarkably realistic in comparison to those of other Eastern countries. As a general rule they depict specific historic events, wars, victories and public festivities in meticulous detail.
The miniaturist - musavvir - ohs cried his subject carefully, closely studying its morphological and spatial characteristics, and graphic structure. Rut he was obliged to represent these an paper using the traditional narrative stereotypes passed down over the centuries. Within this traditional framework the Ottoman miniature painter exercised an unexpected degree of freedom, and in his constant search to portray reality, achieved a highly sophisticated narrative medium.
Marginalised by religious disapproval of human representation, miniaturists suffered from a sense of guilt. They worked only at the palace workshops on orders for the sultan, illustrating his major achievements, campaigns, biographical accounts of the sub tans known as şehname, and public festivities.
Although the emphasis is on historical documentation, the world which the artist observes so closely isa lively and vigorous one which stretches his imagination. In addition to visual documentation of the events of his age -like the press photographers or documentary film producers of our own- the Ottoman miniaturist is also an undiluted artist; even if fate confined his art to the palace and to the book.
GREAT MASTERS OF SMALL PICTURES
In the 16th century a very distinctive master painter came to the fore with his famous illustrations far Beyan-i Mendazil-i Sefer-i lrakeyn, describing the places the army passed through during Ottoman campaigns to Iraq. Matrakçı Nasuh el-Silahi was not only historian, writer, calligrapher, and mathematician, but skilled in the martial arts, particularly the sport known as matrak involving the tossing of clubs, and above all an outstanding painter. His paintings ore reminscent of today’s paintings, but have no counterparts eithar in Eastern miniature or the contemporary art of the West.
The reign of Sflleyman the Magnificent was when the şehname as a literary work came into its own, and the Ottoman art of miniature rose to its zenith. Of the five-volume şehname written by the poet Arifi and illustrated by various painters, three volumes stand out as being of particular importance: the Enbiyaname, Osmannâme and Süleymannâme.
The most outstanding years of Ottoman miniature coincide with the reigns of Selim II and Murad II in the second half of the 16th century. The succession of books written by Şehname writer Seyyit Lokman were illustrated by the great miniaturist Nakkaş Osman and other miniature painters working under his direction.
The Zafernâme, Şehnâme-i Selim Han, Sehinşehnâme, Hünernâme and Zübdetü’t-Tevarih are the products of this brilliant epoch. We find the most interesting miniatures of the period in the Surname illustrating the festivities held to celebrate the circumcision of the sons of Murad IlI
Other celebrated illustrated manuscripts of the period are the Siyer-i Nebi on the life of the Prophet Muhammed, and the Eğri Fetihnamesi illustrated by Hasan, famous miniaturist of the reign of Mehmed III.
A later miniature painter of exceptional renown is tevni cognomen for Abdülcelil celebt whose celebrated Surname-i Vehbt and his sensitive portraits and unusual depiction of human figures mark the final peak of this art in the early isth century.