The Arts of the Book and Calligraphy at Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Sakıp Sabancı’s (d. 2004) collection of calligraphic works by famous calligraphers, Korans and illuminated manuscripts began with the purchase of a levha (calligraphic panel) by Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-39). The Sakıp Sabancı collection expanded in the 1980s with the purchase of private collections, and from 1989 onwards it was exhibited in major museums abroad. The keen interest attracted by these exhibitions cemented Sakıp Sabancı and his family’s resolve to further enlarge the collection and encouraged the idea of founding a museum.

In 1998 the family mansion Atlı Köşk (the Mansion with the Horse) was bequeathed to Sabancı University for the purpose of converting it into a museum, and in 2002 the Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum opened to the public. The ground floor of the mansion was preserved with the original furnishings used by the Sabancı family when they lived there, while the upper floor rooms were transformed into galleries for exhibiting Ottoman manuscripts and calligraphic compositions. In 2012, the 10th anniversary of the Museum, the exhibition technique was enriched with technological applications, enabling the guests to view all pages of thr exhibited manuscripts as well as the bindingd with the iPads provided.

 Spanning a period from the 14th to 20th century, Sakıp Sabancı Museum’s Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection consists of Koran manuscripts and prayer books written by renowned calligraphers; albums compiling pages of Koranic verses, hadith, aphorisms and verses decorated with ornamental works and cut-papers; large panels composed to be hanged on the wall just like paintings; illuminated official documents bearing the imperial cipher of the Ottoman sultans, some of which are illuminated, and calligrapher’s tools made of silver and organic substances, such as coral, ivory, bone and tortoise shell.

 

Illuminated Manuscript Books: A Treasury for Book Lovers

From the early medieval period onwards Islamic rulers and magnates were increasingly interested in the arts, and sought to own finely illuminated, illustrated and bound books written by master scribes. Libraries were founded in contemporary centres of scholarship like Merv, Baghdad and Cordoba, and bookshops that were also scriptoriums and binderies proliferated. Illuminated manuscripts were foremost among the precious objects sent as diplomatic gifts, and royal treasuries overflowed with precious books. Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-30) had the first custom-built Ottoman library building constructed in the Enderun Courtyard at Topkapı Palace to house his collection of valuable manuscripts.

As well as Korans, illuminated copies of books on other subjects, particularly literature and history, were produced for bibliophile sultans, statesmen and magnates. In many cases these were also illustrated with miniature paintings. No expense was spared for the paper, leather, gold and pigments used in their production, and the calligraphers, illuminators, gilders, miniature painters and binders were generously remunerated.

The first stage in producing a manuscript book was preparing the paper. This was first dyed if desired, then size—usually consisting of alum and egg white—was applied, and it was polished to give the surface a smooth glossy finish. Then the paper was cut into pages of the correct size and gathered into quires. Straight ruled borders were drawn by an artist known as a cetvelkeş (literally ‘ruler artist’) around the areas on each page in which the text would be written. The calligrapher would then begin writing, leaving spaces for illustrations or illumination as appropriate. Usually calligraphers added a colophon at the end of the manuscript, giving their name, the date on which they completed the work, and sometimes the city in which the work was done. Then the illumination and illustration artists would set to work and when they had finished the quires were arranged in order, sewn, and attached to woven endbands at either end of the spine to prevent the quires coming apart. The binding would then be pasted along the spine.

 

Displays of Calligraphic Skill: Murakka and Kıt’a

Single page inscriptions written by calligraphers and decorative compositions by artists and illuminators were compiled into albums known as murakka, which have a special place in the Islamic arts of the book. Illuminators, painters, calligraphers, binders and a variety of artists specialising in cetvel (ruled gold borders), vassale (coloured paper collage used to decorate or repair margins), kat’ı (cut-paper work), marbling, flecked gold decoration and halkâr (gilded decoration), displayed their finest work. In some of these albums produced at various times and places, the individual pages are masterpieces in which the work of many artists are combined with outstanding skill and harmony.

The most outstanding examples of such albums were produced at the courts of Safavid sultans and princes in the 16th century. Many such albums were produced by the Ottomans between the 16th and 19th centuries, and these contain hundreds of calligraphic compositions. Most calligraphers wrote single-page compositions of this kind, consisting of prayers, Koranic verses, aphorisms, hadith, tongue twisters or experimental lettering exercises in one or more scripts. These compositions in portrait or landscape format are known as kıt’a. They were pasted onto cardboard and then surrounded by borders of decorative paper and illuminated.

 

Calligraphy as a Wall Decoration: Levhas and Hilyes

Inscribing verses from the Koran, words spoken by the Prophet Muhammad, aphorisms and poetry on the interior and exterior walls of mosques, türbes (mausoleums), palaces and pavilions, on wooden doors, windows and pulpits is a very old tradition. Calligraphers wrote texts such as aphorisms, Koranic verses, hadiths, prayers and the names of God and the Prophet Muhammad and members of his family and disciples in large letters on panels that were hung on walls for everyone to read. These inscriptions were decorated with gilding and illumination. Sometimes pictures of Mecca or Medina, or the symbols of sufi orders were included in the composition. Calligraphers sometimes designed inscriptions in the form of pictures of birds and animals, such as storks or lions, or of human faces.

Texts known as hilye describing the physiognomy of the Prophet Muhammad, sometimes combined with prayers, verses from the Koran, talismanic diagrams, pictures, poems or talismanic phrases were written on large sheets of paper. These were pasted onto cardboard or sometimes panels of wood, illuminated and framed, then hung on the walls of rooms where they could be seen all the time. The popularity of these panels, known as hilye-i şerif, is attributed to a belief that became current in the late 17th century. According to this belief looking at a hilye-i şerif or at pictures of the Prophet’s tomb in Medina was equivalent to seeing the Prophet himself, and that person’s sins would be forgiven. It was also believed that the hilye protected the inhabitants of the house where it was hung from misfortune.

 

Glimpse into a Calligrapher’s Writing Box

Calligraphers were very particular about the paper, reed pens and ink they used. The raw paper would be sized to fill the pores and then polished to create a flawlessly smooth surface before writing. Polishing is done with a special tool in the form of a round stone called mühre. This process also makes the paper more durable, prevents the ink seeping, allows unimpeded movement of the nib, and makes it possible to correct errors without damaging or staining the paper. Smaller mühres called zer-mühre (‘gold polisher’) are used to polish the gold leaf used to gild lettering or illumination.
In the past paper was sold in large sheets and had to be cut to the correct size using paper scissors with long blades, so that a single cut would be sufficient. These scissors are often ornately decorated with silver or gold inlay and bear a maker’s mark.

Other essential calligraphy equipment is a penknife and a tablet known as makta, used for nibbing reed pens. The uncut reed is first rested in the palm of the left hand and cut to a point with the knife, using downward slicing strokes. Then it is placed in the groove of the makta and the nib is split. Ink flows into the narrow slit, which serves as a reservoir, securing a constant flow of ink to the pen tip.

Penknives bear the maker’s mark. The handle may be made of metal, hard woods like ebony, semiprecious stones like agate or jade, or organic materials like coral, ivory, mother of pearl, bone, or tortoise shell.
Maktas are made of materials such as ivory, bone, walrus ivory, mother of pearl or tortoise shell. Occasionally they are made of metal with gold or silver inlay, but in this case the grooved section where the pen is laid to split the nib is always made of an organic material such as ivory.

Ink used by calligraphers essentially consists of lampblack, gum arabic and distilled water. It is kept in inkwells made of wood such as walnut, ebony or olive, metals such as brass, silver or gold, or porcelain. Calligraphers keep their pens, penknives and ink in a pen case known as divit made of jade, ivory, ebony or silver, and carry their paper rolled up in a cylindrical box known as kubur.

 

Modern Interpretations of Traditional Calligraphy

Although the Latin alphabet replaced the Arabic alphabet for writing Turkish in 1928, traditional calligraphy continued to be taught in schools of art, along with illumination and other arts of the book, thus making way for modern masters of calligraphy and arts of the book. Over the past century calligraphers have practiced the traditional forms, copying work by former masters on papers of varying dimensions and decorating them with halkâr gilding or marbling.

Some modern artists have combined traditional calligraphy with innovative designs, working in ink, oils or acrylic, digital format, or using print techniques. Some artists have even produced large woven compositions of Koranic verses or surahs in modern designs.

Videos and installations based on the calligraphy of the past, such as calligraphic pictures, have been produced using modern technology, thus creating fascinating images. In the Museum’s collection, there is a modern artwork combining calligraphy with video.

 

Artworks not on Display

Approximately 1/3 of the Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection are on display in the upper flor galleries of the Mansion. The rest are kept in the artwork storerooms. Framed works are hung on sliding hanging systems and manuscripts are preserved in non-acid dustproof cardboard boxes which allow for air circulation. Unframed single pages are placed horizontally on shelves in non-acid envelopes. Works deemed worn in the display period are taken to the store rooms by the joint decision of the Collection Manager and the Conservation Laboratory Manager to be replaced by similar works.

 

Arts of the Book Meeting

Samples of Ottoman arts of the book from the Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection carefully formed by the late Sakıp Sabancı, equivalents of which can be found in the collections of Topkapı Museum Library and Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, are studied together with the Collection Manager Ayşe Aldemir Kilercik and with the assistance of technological applications. The concept of arts of the book is discussed with reference to the Ottoman book design samples and the history of this precious old art not known to many other than the experts is shared.

The Meeting is free of charge.
Click here for more information and a short video.

 

Conferences and Seminars

Sakıp Sabancı Museum presents papers based on the scientific research it conducts on the Works in its collections at national and international conferences, as well as organizing national and international conferences and allocating its facilities for international conferences in cooperation with other institutions.

In 2012, its 10th anniversary, the Museum changed its display system, and also organized an international panel meeting on ‘Sultan Bayezid II on the 500th Year of His Death: Books, Poets, Artists’ on 26 May of the same year, to commemorate the Ottoman sultan who was a collector of books. For the occasion, a facsimile edition of the poet Efsahî’s odes in praise of Sultan Bayezid, that was produced by the Ottoman court artists around the year 1500 was printed.

 

 

 

Sakıp Sabancı Museum hosted the 36th international conference of MELCom International/European Association of Middle East Librarians on 26-28 May 2014.
https://www.melcominternational.org/
https://www.melcominternational.org/?page_id=160&year=2014

 

Access and digitalSSM

In 2012, the Museum, together with the Sabancı University’s Information Center launched a pioneering project to transfer all collections and archives of a Turkish museum to the digital medium. The Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection, the Painting Collection, as well as all information in the Abidin Dino and Emirgan Archives and more than 77,000 high resolution visuals are now in the digitalSSM website. Researchers can request information and visuals via digitalSSM and the system is compatible with mobile devices.

Click here for accessing the Arts of the Book and Calligraphy Collection to study the individual pieces, together with images and information.

Calligrapher's writing box with landscape  Early 19th century  SSM 195-0573

Calligrapher's writing box with landscape Early 19th century SSM 195-0573

Writing set consisting of inkwells and ewer bearing the tuğra of Sultan Abdülmecid  (r. 1839-61)  19th century  SSM 195-0551_0555

Writing set consisting of inkwells and ewer bearing the tuğra of Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839-61) 19th century SSM 195-0551_0555

Pencase known as divit  18th century  SSM 195-0040

Pencase known as divit 18th century SSM 195-0040

Reed pens  19th century  SSM 195-0548

Reed pens 19th century SSM 195-0548

Calligrapher\'s writing box  18th century  SSM 195-0567

Calligrapher\'s writing box 18th century SSM 195-0567

Calligraphic panel with gilded lettering  Celi sülüs script  Sultan Mahmud II  (r. 1808-39)  ‘My achievement derives only from God’  SSM 130-0109

Calligraphic panel with gilded lettering Celi sülüs script Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-39) ‘My achievement derives only from God’ SSM 130-0109

Calligraphic panel with gilded lettering  Celi sülüs script  Mustafa Rakım (d. 1826)  ‘There is no god but God. He is my lord and lord of the worlds. Muhammad is my

Calligraphic panel with gilded lettering Celi sülüs script Mustafa Rakım (d. 1826) ‘There is no god but God. He is my lord and lord of the worlds. Muhammad is my

Mirrored inscription with gilded lettering  Celi sülüs script  Mehmed Şefik (d. 1880)  1286/1869-70  ‘There is no god but God, who is my lord and lord of the worlds’

Mirrored inscription with gilded lettering Celi sülüs script Mehmed Şefik (d. 1880) 1286/1869-70 ‘There is no god but God, who is my lord and lord of the worlds’

Album  Sülüs and nesih scripts  Hafız Osman (d. 1698)  Couplets from Muhammed bin Said el-Busirî’s (d. 1296?) Kasidetü’l-Bürde, a eulogy for the Prophet

Album Sülüs and nesih scripts Hafız Osman (d. 1698) Couplets from Muhammed bin Said el-Busirî’s (d. 1296?) Kasidetü’l-Bürde, a eulogy for the Prophet

Calligraphic panel with gilded lettering  Celi sülüs script  Sami Efendi (d. 1912)  1318/1900-01  ‘Success is owing to God’ and ‘What a sublime Lord and what an excellent friend’ SSM

Calligraphic panel with gilded lettering Celi sülüs script Sami Efendi (d. 1912) 1318/1900-01 ‘Success is owing to God’ and ‘What a sublime Lord and what an excellent friend’ SSM

Hilye-i Şerif  Muhakkak, sülüs and nesih scripts  Mehmed Şefik (d. 1880)  1270/1853-54  SSM 140-0093

Hilye-i Şerif Muhakkak, sülüs and nesih scripts Mehmed Şefik (d. 1880) 1270/1853-54 SSM 140-0093

Album of calligraphic exercises  Talik script  Probably by Yesari Mehmed Esad (d. 1798)  SSM 120-0347 lightBox Icon

Album of calligraphic exercises Talik script Probably by Yesari Mehmed Esad (d. 1798) SSM 120-0347 lightBox Icon

Kıt’a  Sülüs and nesih scripts  İsmail Zühdî (d. 1806)  Late 18th century  SSM 110-0128

Kıt’a Sülüs and nesih scripts İsmail Zühdî (d. 1806) Late 18th century SSM 110-0128

Mezopotamya Dramaturjileri / Su, no. 5  Kufi script  Kutluğ Ataman (1961-)  2009  SSM 300-0001 lightBox Icon

Mezopotamya Dramaturjileri / Su, no. 5 Kufi script Kutluğ Ataman (1961-) 2009 SSM 300-0001 lightBox Icon

Diploma masterpiece  Sülüs, nesih and rıka scripts  Mir Mustafa Celaleddin (fl. 1853)  1270/1853-54  SSM 110-0597 lightBox Icon

Diploma masterpiece Sülüs, nesih and rıka scripts Mir Mustafa Celaleddin (fl. 1853) 1270/1853-54 SSM 110-0597 lightBox Icon

Koran  Nesih and sülüs scripts  c. 1500  SSM 100-0269

Koran Nesih and sülüs scripts c. 1500 SSM 100-0269

Illuminated opening spread of an Elif-Ba (an Alphabet Book)  Nesih script  Mustafa Vâsıf (d.1853)  c. 1840  SSM 190-0410 lightBox Icon

Illuminated opening spread of an Elif-Ba (an Alphabet Book) Nesih script Mustafa Vâsıf (d.1853) c. 1840 SSM 190-0410 lightBox Icon

Calligraphic exercises (karalama)  Sülüs script  Ahmed Karahisârî  (d. 1556)  SSM 190-0456

Calligraphic exercises (karalama) Sülüs script Ahmed Karahisârî (d. 1556) SSM 190-0456

Koran  Nesih and rıka scripts  Yahya b. Osman  (d. 1756)  Kostantiniyye (Constantinople),  1157/1744-45  Illuminated by Mustafa

Koran Nesih and rıka scripts Yahya b. Osman (d. 1756) Kostantiniyye (Constantinople), 1157/1744-45 Illuminated by Mustafa

Kehf surah  Muhakkak, sülüs and rıka scripts  Kadı Mahmud (d. 1575)  966/1559  SSM 102-0210

Kehf surah Muhakkak, sülüs and rıka scripts Kadı Mahmud (d. 1575) 966/1559 SSM 102-0210

Koran  Nesih and rıka scripts  Yusuf, known as Demircikulu  (d. 1611)  977/1569  SSM 100-0365

Koran Nesih and rıka scripts Yusuf, known as Demircikulu (d. 1611) 977/1569 SSM 100-0365

Fragment of the interior cover of Kaaba  Celi sülüs script  Probably early 17th century  SSM 196-0578

Fragment of the interior cover of Kaaba Celi sülüs script Probably early 17th century SSM 196-0578

Kuran-ı Kerim  Nesih and sülüs script 1500  SSM 100-0269

Kuran-ı Kerim Nesih and sülüs script 1500 SSM 100-0269

Kasâyid-i Efsahî der medh-i Sultan Bayezid  (Odes in praise of Sultan Bayezid by Efsahî)  Nestalik script  Ottoman, c. 1495  SSM 190-0318 lightBox Icon

Kasâyid-i Efsahî der medh-i Sultan Bayezid (Odes in praise of Sultan Bayezid by Efsahî) Nestalik script Ottoman, c. 1495 SSM 190-0318 lightBox Icon

Temlikname (conveyance deed) in the name of Sitti Hatun  Tuğra of Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81)  11-20 Safer 864/7-16 December 1459  Divani script  SSM 150-0165

Temlikname (conveyance deed) in the name of Sitti Hatun Tuğra of Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81) 11-20 Safer 864/7-16 December 1459 Divani script SSM 150-0165

Ferman (imperial edict) in the name of the Armenian Patriarch Tanyel  (d. 1800)  Tuğra of Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807)  14 Zilhicce 1213/19 May

Ferman (imperial edict) in the name of the Armenian Patriarch Tanyel (d. 1800) Tuğra of Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807) 14 Zilhicce 1213/19 May

Koran  Hurde talik script  Mustafa İzzet (d. 1876)  1253/1837  Illuminated by Hasan in 1256/1840-41  SSM 100-0281 lightBox Icon

Koran Hurde talik script Mustafa İzzet (d. 1876) 1253/1837 Illuminated by Hasan in 1256/1840-41 SSM 100-0281 lightBox Icon

Third cüz of a Koran  (Bakara: 253 - Âl-i İmran: 91)  Muhakkak and kufi scripts  Ottoman, c. 1440  SSM 102-0047 lightBox Icon

Third cüz of a Koran (Bakara: 253 - Âl-i İmran: 91) Muhakkak and kufi scripts Ottoman, c. 1440 SSM 102-0047 lightBox Icon

Calligraphic album  Sülüs and nesih scripts  Şeyh Hamdullah  (d. 1520)  SSM 120-0243

Calligraphic album Sülüs and nesih scripts Şeyh Hamdullah (d. 1520) SSM 120-0243

Berat (title of privilege) in the name of Sokollu Mehmed Paşa (d. 1579)  Tuğra of Sultan Murad III (r. 1574-95)  21-30 Recep 983/26 October-4 November 1575

Berat (title of privilege) in the name of Sokollu Mehmed Paşa (d. 1579) Tuğra of Sultan Murad III (r. 1574-95) 21-30 Recep 983/26 October-4 November 1575