Saturday, August 30, 2008

Harem

anonymous oil on canvas painting of harem
People of the West have often attributed concepts like secrets, mysticism, hidden pleasures, treasures, etc to the East. As a matter of fact, this is one of the corner stones of the Orient. Harem is such one concept. It is somewhat sad that a place where young women are enslaved has attracted so much popularity. I have deliberately not used attention here, as very few criticized it and many secretly dreamed to be a part of it. Not much has changed now in the 21st century. If we do not see harems, it is most probably due to economic reasons and women are still treated as objects.

On this anonymous oil on canvas of 18th century, we see a young maiden dressed in white, prepared for his master.

Dimensions: 115x115 cm
Estimated value: $ 200,000

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Silver Fez Hanger

ottoman egyptian silver fez hanger of late 19th century
Fez was a popular hat in Ottoman Empire. There were rules and regulation on how and where to wear them and people (men) took great care in keeping them in perfect shape and condition. On these Ottoman-Egyptian silver fez hangers of late 19th century, an Ottoman coat of arms was carved.

Height: 27.5 cm.
Estimated value: $ 25,000

The Water Carrier by Isaac Snowman

water carrier, oil on canvas by Isaac Snowman
Isaac Snowman (1874-1947) was a British artist educated at the the City of London School. He had a great interest in Jewish subjects and participated in a Maccabean pilgrimage to Palestine in 1897. He later moved to Jerusalem, where he had a studio over the Damascus Gate. The Water Carrier, an oil on canvas, was traded in a 2007 auction in Istanbul.

Dimensions: 138x92 cm.
Estimated value: $ 80,000

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Primer on Turkish Miniatures

turkish miniature
Western languages define miniature as a small sized sample of an object. Later, the word has acquired an additional meaning for drawings or pictures of a book. Old Turkish (I am using it very loosely, please do not forget nationalism is a concept of 18th century and onwards; obvious, but often forgotten by many) sources use the words nakis or tasvir for miniature, while the artist is called nakkas or musavvar (let me also note none of them is actually Turkish; they are Arabic).

We find wall paintings and pictures of various figures alongside miniatures among examples of Turkish painting in the Uighur centers of Hoco, Bezeklik, Sorcug in Turfan region dating back to 8th and 9th century. The main theme of the miniatures before the Islamization of Turkish tribes is Uighur princes or princesses and Mani priests. However, many belief systems intersected in the region and rich and diverse (subject matter) miniatures were found. Later works until 13th century were unfortunately lost (it is also worth mentioning that the archaeological research and diggings were scarce due to political instability and hostile environment in the region).

Varka and Gulsah (TPM H.841), a love story similar to Romeo and Juliet but with a different plot, is one of the outstanding examples of 13th century Seljuk painting. The miniatures of the manuscript was drawn by Abdul Mumin whose family had settled in Konya after immigrating from Hoy. The figures representing Turks in Varka and Gulsah closely resemble the figures in the china and pottery of Great Seljuk Empire.

Another one that reached our time is an astrology book presented to Seljuk Sultan Giyaseddin Keyhusrev III, written by Nasreddin of Sivas in Aksaray, in 1271 (Paris, Bib. Nat., P.174). In addition eastern motifs, strong contours and light shading suggest that the artist had seen Byzantine miniatures before.

Another piece that is worth mention is what researchers tagged as "Mehmet Charcoal", originally drawn in Turkestan and found in Mehmed the Conqueror's album (TPM). Drawn on silk and coarse Chinese paper, the miniatures reflect shamanistic world view vividly.

Sadly, the works of Beyliks period, just after the fall of Anatolian Seljuk Empire were also lost. Recent research surfaced a few of them; notably, Dilsuzname: Rose and the Mockingbird of 1455 (Oxford Bodlein Lib.), Hatifi's Husrev-i Sirin (N.Y., Metropolitan Museum of Art, 6927) with his perspective trials, Katibî Külliyati (TPM, R.989), Iskendername (Venice, San Marco Lib.) where Turkmen effect is very obvious come to mind.

15th century onwards, western influence started to make its way. Mehmed's invitation of painters like Gentile Bellini and Constanza da Ferrara had a lasting effect through the students of these artists, especially in portraits. Despite adverse Islamic beliefs of the period, Sinan Bey did make a portrait of Mehmed the Conqueror, relaxed and sniffing a rose in his hand (TPM, H.2153).

Part 2

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Silk Handkerchief

silk handkerchief with skulls or ghosts
From the very first moment, this silk handkerchief has troubled me. It was customary to make handkerchiefs to commemorate special events or as a souvenir, but this one is a mystery to me. It looks Ottoman, fine. Yet, it is very odd in the sense that something is not right with it. Could be the skulls (or ghosts) on the left or the figures (I can not quite make out what) beneath the mosque.

Estimated value: $ 500

Fabric Label of Ipranossian Freres of Samsun

lithograph print fabric label 19th century
A lithograph print of a fabric label of late 19th century by Ipranossian Freres of Samsun for Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & G Elberfeld.

Dimensions: 14x10 cm.
Estimated value: $ 100

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beykoz Opaline Pitcher

beykoz opaline water pitcher
Beykoz, Istanbul was once the heart of glass industry. Many artisans learned their craft in this area and later in the 20th century a glass factory was built at the same place. This Beykoz opaline long-spouted water pitcher of 19th century is one of the sweetest pieces one can find. Pity, I was unable to find a quality picture.

Height: 23 cm
Estimated value: unknown

Old Man

ottoman old man figure made in Copenhagen
Made in Copenhagen especially for the Ottomans, This statuette of an old man with a beard is dated 1913. On a square base, we see a typical figure of the century. I liked its vivid colors most. I thought he was Merlin first.

Height: 35 cm.
Estimated value: $ 1,300

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tombac Headpiece

tombac horse headpiece of kayi tribe
A tombac horse headpiece that remained from one of the leading Turkmen tribes, the Kayis. Remarkably well preserved tombac. In addition to protection, probably it was used to frighten the opponents and their horses; 17th century.

Height: 74.5 cm.
Estimated value: $ 325,000

Kagithane by Karagheurian

kagithane oil on canvas by karagheurianI am posting a picture (oil on canvas) by Armenian painter Karagheurian (no data available for his birth or death) not because of its monetary value. If any one of you has been to Kagithane, Istanbul recently, no doubt you were unable to recognize the place. For once, the creek in the picture does not exist any more. It is a so-called avenue now. Yet nature is persistant. Whenever it rains heavily, the creek mysteriously reappears, flooding the basement floors for good measure, and maybe to remind us all that by destroying environment, we destroy ourselves. Sad...

Dimensions: 73x101 cm.
Estimated value: $ 7,500

Ottoman Figures #2

oil on canvas figures by nadirThese three oil on canvas figures, a barber and street sellers, are by Nadir, date of birth and death unknown. Apart from being cute, at least I find them cute, these kind of pictures are great help for historians. They reflect social life, status, economic condition, dress codes of the era better than anything else.

Dimensions: 24x19, 21.5x16, 21.5x16 cm.
Estimated value: $ 6,000

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How to (correctly) Interpret Ottoman Calligraphy

Ottoman calligraphy is a thorny subject. Just like the era of the artists, we observe the scene is now dominated by religious figures on a scale of absurdity to zealotry. According to these, the artists had one and only one thing in their minds: to promote the prophet; they were overflowing with love of god, so they had to write the same words time after time.

I am not an artist, but I happen to know a few, and I am not obsessed with religion. So I hold a different and radical view on these works of art. As I briefly touched in Hilye-i Serif, the Artist's Battle Cry, they were creative people who had to operate within clearly defined and enforced constraints. Their tools were words that glorified the prophet, their colors the prophet's virtues. If you think they entertained themselves with a sadistic pleasure by inscribing the same words and virtues over and over again, be my guest, or rather their guest who think this way.

On the contrary, they were free spirits who enjoyed life to the fullest. Allow me to explain. Let me introduce the two masters of the art from the 16th century: Ibrahim the Loaded (Sarhos Ibrahim; I do not know his favorite booze or whatever comes to your mind) and Nasuh the Joker (Matrakci Nasuh). OK, you know their names and their nicks. Now, tell me which definition is more likely, theirs or mine. If you still insist, Ibrahim the Loaded for example, had a hangover every morning because he contemplated too much about God at night, I have got nothing else to say.

Or, maybe not. Let us delve into the details of the Joker's life. In addition to being a renowned calligrapher, he was a miniature artist, a geographer, a historian, a mathematician and an expert on weaponry. He wrote three mathematics and geometry books, Cemalu'l-Kuttab, Kemalu'l-Hisab and Umdetu'l-Hisab. The last one had been used as a primary book of reference by mathematicians of the time. His books narrating the campaigns of the Ottoman army were enriched by miniatures he made himself. Last but not least, Suleiman the Magnificent decorated him with a berat for his mastery on weapons; no, not for making them, but for using them. Now, tell me what you see: a man praying every night, or an adventurer!

I am not claiming they were a bunch of atheists disguised as calligraphers. I am simply severing the link between their work and their religious affiliation. How they expressed themselves had no relation to their beliefs. Hence, I want you to look beyond what they wrote and drew. There is a hidden picture, a sublime feeling beneath their work and I want you to discover it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Double Terracotta by Depys

double terracotta busts by depys

I have across these two terracotta busts by Depys accidentally in an auction. The photo really does not do justice to these, here.

Height: 52 cm.
Estimated value: $ 2,500

Hilye-i Serif by Hafiz Osman

hilye-i serif by hafiz osman
Combining the calligraphy techniques of sulus and nesih, Hafiz Osman (1642-1698) created one of the finest examples of hilye-i serif. The piece was also inscribed with golden flowers, rococo style.

Dimensions: 51x38 cm.
Estimated value: $ 60,000

Hilye-i Serif, the Artist's Battle Cry

Man has an intrinsic compass pointing towards beauty and aesthetics. It chooses one form over another, prefers a particular style, ratio, color and shape among many. But above all, it urges him/her to copy, reproduce and eventually create. From birth, humans accumulate all sorts of input surrounding themselves, and one day, just like a volcano, it erupts. Some of this lava is more appealing than others to many, and it is called art.

For centuries, Muslim artists had suffered from an interpretation of Koran that claimed drawing of human body was a sin (Sadly, it is still true for some parts of the world). Yet, the urge to create, to express themselves was so great that they looked for ways to channel their creativity while satisfying the clerics who defended this bigotry vigorously. But there is a crack, a crack in everything, that's where the light comes in. And they found their crack: hilye-i serif. Only in this case, the light went out, not in.

Hilye-i serif is a form of art, a non-painting let's say, where the prophet Mohammed's appearance and virtues are written but not drawn. Each hilye-i serif essentially says the same thing, it glorifies the prophet. It did not matter for the artist as a matter of fact, what he cared was the form, the style, the shape, the colors, not the content. Restricted by religious fanatics, they answered in the only way that their work would not be condemned. Who could have objected the glorification of the prophet?

I will post the ones I liked most, from private collections only. I hope you will like them.

An Old Istanbul District

old istanbul district by fabius brest

Painters loved Orient, its mysticism and its tranquility. This oil on cardboard  painting is by Fabius Brest (1823-1900). Looking at it, one wonders how quiet Istanbul must have been then.

Dimensions: 21x37 cm.
Estimated value: $ 30,000

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Zerendud Inscription

zerendud framed inscription
Zerendud means scribed with gold. Ismail Hakki Altunbezer's (1873 - 1946) framed inscription of cobalt blue is one of my favorites (maybe because of the color). Written with celi sulus technique, it is a fascinating example of Ottoman calligraphy; dated 1922, with a hadith of the prophet Mohammed written on it.

Dimensions: 28x44 cm
Estimated value: $ 4,500

19th Century Tombac Dagger

ottoman tombac dagger 19th centuryCurved long body and a short hilt, a beautiful example of the time. Both of its sides are embossed with motifs made by repousse technique. Its scabbard is embroidered with an emblem of Mizika-i Humayun (official brass band of the Ottoman Palace), crescents and various emblems placed between flowers and geometric patterns. We see oysters at the top of the scabbard and its tombac is in excellent condition.

Estimated value: $ 55,000

What is Tombac

Most dictionaries including wikipedia simply define tombac as an alloy of copper and zinc (85-90% and 10-15% respectively). However, tombac-ing, if I may use it as a verb, is a technique of casing or plating with gold. Copper and copper alloys are veneered with an amalgam of gold and mercury, and tombac is the common name for pieces plated with gold using this technique.

It is a delicate process requiring patience and perfect timing. After preparing the gold and mercury amalgam, the piece is cleaned with sulphuric acid. Then it is brushed with mercury diluted in water. Now comes the amalgam which is again brushed over the piece and heated until mercury evaporates. The result is a thick and extremely durable gold plating.

Topkapi Museum hosts a variety of products, trays, bowls, pitchers, torches, candlesticks, chandeliers, etc made of tombac.

Berat of Sultan Mehmed IV

a berat of sultan mehmet 4 of ottoman empire
This certificate issued by Mehmed IV (1648 - 1687), extends a tax collection privilege of 6000 akces (the currency of the time) to the children of Seyhsunullah, upon his death, in the Gulabek district of Malatya area. Bears the signature in gold and a handwriting of the Sultan himself, it was written in gold and ink in Istanbul, in 1654. The 12th line has been restored.

There were two basic forms of certificates issued by the sultans, the fermans which were simply orders, and berats. Berats certified a title, termination or transfer of them or could be a privilege, grant, and even a patent.

Dimensions: 110x37 cm.
Estimated worth: $ 23,000

Abdulkadir Pasha's Sword

sword of Abdulkadir Pasha
On this typical Ottoman sword of the late 18th century is a writing that says it belongs to Abdulkadir Pasha in old Turkish. With a hilt made of bone, the sword has a steel body, a wooden scabbard enveloped with leather, inlaid with golden plants and the Sura of Qonquest from the Quran.

2003 auction price: $ 30,000

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Dresden Curiosity

porcelain figure of ottoman youth made in dresden germany
Here is a curiosity for you, a statuette of a young Ottoman. Made in Dresden, this 19th century porcelain has really intrigued me. If you look carefully, you will see a mask in his left hand, Venetian I guess, and this is really a curious combination.

I am looking for more information on this one. If you happen to know, drop a comment here; it will be mostly appreciated.

Height: 24 cm.
Estimated value: $ 2,000

Weird Creations

pages from acaibul mahlukat
Although I am not pleased with the translation, I have decided to literally translate "Acaibü'l Mahlukat", hence the title of the post. The book was written with a calligraphy technique called nesih in 16th century Istanbul. In this book of 176 pages, each of which containing 19 lines, there are 145 miniatures and 9 drawings. Covering the geography and cosmography of the era, it is one of the prime examples of the Islamic literature of the time, a mini encyclopedia or sort of.

The book itself was written by Kazvini (died 1283) and translated to Turkish upon the request of Prince Mustafa, the son of Suleiman the Magnificent. Translation effort by Sururi halted for a while when the Prince was killed in 1553, but later was completed by Rodosizade in June 1558.

Weird Creations start with a story of a two-headed person and continues with the stars and their movement, known celestial bodies of the time like the Moon, Venus, Mars etc, and goes on telling about the stars of the South and North Pole, and constellations.

The best of the miniatures reside in the chapter titled "Angels Living in the Sky"and we see Gabriel with Burak, the Arabic equivalent of Pegasus, along with pictures of man, oxe, lion and angels.

Copies of the book can also be seen in Topkapi Museum, Suleymaniye Library, British Library London and Berlin National Library.

Dimensions: 24x16 cm
Estimated worth: $ 500,000

Ottoman Figures #1

19th century anonymous figures from ottoman social lifeThese watercolor on paper figures are so cute that I almost thought of adding a dedicated category for them. Most are by anonymous artists, possibly due to religious restrictions of the era. In this work of 19th century we see an Ottoman sultan, şeyhülislam (the chief religious official in the Ottoman Empire) and a hewer.

Dimensions: 22x14 cm each
Priced: $ 2,800

Unable to learn if it was sold.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Embroidered Door Curtain

silk curtain embroidered with gold and silver by calligrapher sami efendi
Specially woven for Ottomans in Syria and Egypt, this door curtain of silk was embroidered with gold and silver. The writings belong to Sami Efendi (1838-1912), the renowned hattat (calligrapher) of the period.

Dimensions: 250x168 cm.

Tagged with a price of $ 90,000, the piece is still not sold.

Teahouse in Emirgan Gardens

teahouse in emirgan gardens istanbul by naci kalmukogluNaci Kalmukoglu's (1896-1954) oil painting on MDF. It sketches a once green and quite Istanbul.

Dimensions: 55 x 46,5 cm.

Sold at $ 49,300 after an opening price tag of $ 7,460 in Portakal Sanat's May 2007 auction.

Coffee Pot with Sultan's Signature

silver coffee pot with signature of sultan abdulhamid of ottoman empire
This silver coffee pot bears the Sultan Abdulhamid II's (1876-1909) signature. With a pine cone lid and dragon figured handle, it was carved with geometric patterns and flowers; a rare combination for Ottoman period.

After an initial price of $ 2,230, it was sold at $ 2,830 in Portakal Sanat's auction of May 2007.

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