Türk Tezhib Sanati

The various disciplines associated with the manuscript, such as calligraphy, binding, and the painting of miniatures, have in Türkiye traditionally been crowned by the splendour of illumination.

The embellishments in albums and manuscripts, whether done in paint or gilt, are all defined as illumination, the word for which in Turkish, tezhib ,comes from Arabic and means literally "gilding" or "begolding ". The art uses more all-inclusive means, however: vegetable dyes, metal oxides, earth-based color dyes and powdered stones of various colors being added to sizing.

Among the favorite sites for illumination are the end sheet known as the zahriye which precedes the text in manuscripts; the final section called the hatim; the title; the heading of a chapter or verse in the Koran, or the end of a verse; and in some cases all the margins of a highly venerated work.

It is of paramount importance in the art of illumination that the various motifs used should make a harmonious whole. The dominant motifs should be set off nicely by the subsidiary ones, while special attention is payed to how much of a page is illuminated and how much left bare. A minor type of motif known as tig, with a dart-like tip pointing outward from the design, is used to smooth the transition from the illumination to the blank margin. Literally hundreds of tig styles were employed at various times in history, but all of them taper to a point in some fashion.

Like many Turkish arts of traditional origin, illumination depends on the skills of a number of craftsmen working together to create a finished product. When the calligrapher is done writing the body of the work, it is the turn of the cedvelkes to rule the margins in gold, or black or red ink. Then master and apprentices pounce the design worked up by the illuminator, who then does the actual drawing of the illumination, alone or with colleagues. All this would be carried out in a special room ath the palace, or in the studio of a great illuminator.

As early as the 13th century, in the time of the Anatolian Selcuks and in the period of the Beyliks, a style of illumination grew up in Konya which was rich yet spare and measured. As practiced by artists of the Selcuk court, it featured interlacing geometric patterns embellished with speckles, stars or leaf-like motifs. The upper or lower border of the page carried series of black, interlinked hook motifs on a gold background. Around a circular medallion would be worked the munhani designs mentioned above. Colors were mainly gold, dark blue, white and reddish brown. The tig is either absent or in the form of restrained thin blue lines.

The style of the 15th century favored two open leaves, the zahriye, each with a medallion; one contained the dedication to the sultan (Mehmet the Conqueror) and the other the name of the book and its author. Unlike the round Selcuk medallions, those of the latter 15th century were oval.

Index from a 16th century text. Headings are written in white on gold.

In the 16th century the art of illumination in Türkiye reached its zenith. The wealth of motifs, colors and compositions, the perfection of technique, the variety and subtlety of designs, the generaous use of gold in harmony with accompanying colors on the blue background, are features which unite the illumination of this age. The range of tig strokes also broadened, and the addition to them of rumi motifs could make for highly elegant effects. Toward the end of the century we even see floral patterns in the tig margin.

The early 17th century in this art is so to speak a continuation of the latter 16th, but as this century wore on there were ever greater lardings of gold. Needle stippling on a gold background of this time.

The 18th century saw the classic art of illumination move toward ornateness built around large floral motifs and intricate embellishment, with even the tig borders being marred by overblown gaudy flowers. Baroque and Roccoco found their way into the art, as ribbons, life-like branches, leaves and overindulgence in general became the rule. Among ther additions to the illuminator's lexicon were flowers singly or in buquets, with or without a vase to contain them, for which style the generic name is sukufe.

With the 19th century a decline set in, lack of interest reducing the ranks of the illustrators to a handful. Today there are courses offered in various universities, as weel as at the Topkapi Palace and the Cerrahpasa Institute of Medical History, through which the art is kept from dying out.