Category Archives: Appreciation

Appreciation of Islamic aesthetic values

Appreciation – Istanbul Trip Pt.1 – The Blue Mosque

(Updates to this post will be done periodically as apparently, WordPress doesn’t allow for multiple photos and if I do, the post won’t be able to be published)

(Another update – turns out I had to resize my photos 45% smaller to be able to be uploaded here.)

As some of you might know, I was in Istanbul in the end of March and early April of 2017. Istanbul was and still is my dream destination. Istanbul and generally Turkey is a treasure trove of Islamic art and architecture. One might argue that Turkey is the best place to study Islamic art and architecture due to the sheer volume of the sights that are available there, although this would only ring true if you only study the regional Islamic art and architectural style which is Turkish – a rather separate and special entity in the world of Islamic art. You might not find traditionally Arabic or Moroccan Islamic art for example, in Istanbul. This is mainly due to their own art and architecture are essentially defined and very much developed that one can instantly recognize and differentiate the art and architecture of Islamic Turkey and other Islamic art and architecture. The Turkish are also very proud of their identity ; that also helps the Islamic Turkish art and architecture to flourish independently without being chained down to other Islamic art identities.

Istanbul and Turkey in general, given their very extensive history, is not only a mecca of Islamic art and architecture, but also other cultures as well. Before the arrival of the Ottomans, the Romans and then the Byzantines settled in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul. In additional of these cultures, other people came in to settle in Turkey such as the Greeks, the Jews, the Armenians etc especially after the conquest of Constantinople (Old name of Istanbul) making Turkey and in particular Istanbul a melting pot of different cultures that reflects in the art and architecture of Islamic Turkey. I might feature a few samples of these delicate amalgamation of different cultures and how they would reflect in contemporary and historical Islamic Turkish art and architecture.

For this series, I would feature the Islamic art and architecture I found in Istanbul (and other cities I had visited in Turkey) both in chronological order and landmark-by-landmark basis. For this post, I would like to feature one of the most prominent landmark in Istanbul and perhaps the whole of Turkey, the first one I visited  – the six-minaret Sultan Ahmet Mosque or more commonly known to foreigners and visitors and the Blue Mosque.

Completed in 1616, the mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I. The mosque was built in fron the the Hagia Sophia, which by then was still the Imperial mosque of the Ottomans since the conquest of Constantinople. It was referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the 20,000 blue Iznik tiles lining the interior of the mosque. The architect of the mosque was Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, a pupil of the master Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan.  The mosque was staggeringly large and tall and the main dome is so impressive, any and every visitor who came through the threshold of the mosque will instinctively gaze up the heavens to see the majestic main dome of the mosque. The grounds are also breathtakingly beautiful and serene even by the end of the cold winter months. It is said that you can see the mosque from anywhere in Istanbul, and given the sheer size of the monument, it is not difficult to believe in such rumour.

P70327-142149The author in front of the courtyard door of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. The complexity of the pattern is breathtaking

P70327-142217Pardon the awkward pose, this is requested by my friend. The marble six fold pattern in exquisite, and this is the first thing you see when entering the courtyard, if not your gaze to be fixed on the mosque itself.

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The facade of the mosque itself. Once you entered the threshold of the mosque’s main gate and into the colonnaded, domed courtyard, this is what will you inevitable see. The gentle, majestic cascading domes of the mosque is quintessentially Ottoman Islamic architectural feature. In the middle of the courtyard there is a small Sardivan (A small water fountain, here serves as an ablution fountain) and here in the mosque’s courtyard there are exhibits about Islam in Turkish and English. The mosque actually serves as an Islamic information centre, where visitors who come to visit the monument can also learn about Islam by attending various Islam related talks as well as reading Islamic books given for free and visiting the exhibits.

DSCN0401.JPGThe interior of the mosque, seen from the front rows of the prayer hall in front of the Mimbar (Pulpit, can be seen here on the right side). All visitors of this grandiose mosque will instinctively gaze heavenwards to the lofty majestic dome as they enter the main prayer hall. The dome seemed to be floating above the worshipers and visitors when in reality it is being held aloft by four thick buttress pillars. The delicate and exquisite blue and red tiles decorating the main hall made the whole scene even more ethereal. One might wonder how the Ottomans can make such beautiful works of art in such a grand sacred space . Below the dome, next to one of the grand buttress pillar is a platform where the muezzin would stand before a prayer and called out the Iqama. This is one of the unique feature of Ottoman mosques, whereas no other mosques in other parts of the Islamic world features the same element.

 

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Some examples of Islamic geometric motives mosaic in the mosque. These could be found in front of the bay windows of the mosques. Some of them were hidden by the prayer carpet but these were the exposed ones in the mosque.

 

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Help with Recognizing This Piece of Islamic Art

It has been hectic these past few months. As you might know by now, I am currently doing my usual day work as well as studying in my spare time. So at the moment, I don’t really have time to do anything else, let alone to blog extensively as I did a few months ago, when my priorities are still loose, and time is very much at my side.
However, I see this as a challenge, and I am trying to divide my time between studying, working, and other things that is required of the Human Soul i.e sleeping, eating and leisure to avoid being crazy. And now here I am! I just finished sending some work emails, and as I am typing this, I am actually listening to a recording of a lecture of one of the course I am studying, all while watching a Japanese Drama currently on TV. Talking about multitasking, eh?
However, this will be just a small short post. A few weeks ago (or was it few months ago?) I received a curious email in this blog’s inbox. This email is from a lady in Australia who happened upon an interesting piece of Islamic Metalwork, and asked me about the origins, the designs and the materials et al regarding the artwork, which is a metal plate, decorated with strange, although still Islamic, designs. This is the picture of the plate in question –

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I took the liberty of rotating the picture, so to show the curious script around the perimeter of the plate, decorating the surface. The decorations are apparently affixed onto the brass plate using wires of copper and iron and/or silver. This is my reply to the lady  –

These kind of brass plates are common in the Islamic world – mostly in the Arab countries. You can find them in souks and bazaars from Turkey to Damascus, Cairo to Morocco and Spain. Some of them are original, new designs, but most of them are replicas or done in a traditional design, since they are produced as early as the 11th Century, so you might come across an antique. These plates are often made with different kinds of metals for the contrast of colours – you can find gold plates inlaid with silver, or in the case of your plate, copper and silver. I can also see brass there, although I need to see it in person to really know.

About the calligraphy, I can make out the inscription وصل من لله which means, if my Arabic is correct, Arrived/received from God. However, there are some weird almost nonsensical characters and annotations in the inscription, such as ا (Alif) annotations between the من (Meen, meaning from). There is also a ر (Ra’) after the word الله (Allah, meaning God) which combined, makes no sense. Perhaps the maker of the plate just put the character there to fill in the space, although to be logical, he can fill the whole space with the  الله but this is merely just my opinion.

I cannot really judge the age of the plate, although, looking at the design ( which is quite simple and more modern, in Islamic art sense,compared to other plates) I might guess that it is made in the last century, perhaps 50 or 40 years ago. The Arabesques used are very simple and are common in Syria and the surrounding areas.

These are, of course, is a general study of the plate from an amateur’s point of view. I asked the lady if I can ask my readers, you, on your comments on the artwork. Perhaps you have a more specific information of this piece? Or perhaps you have another copy of the plate? Or perhaps it was you who made this plate?

Give us your information or ideas regarding the plate by commenting on this post, or by emailing me, or by using this handy new contact form below!

 

UPDATE : I actually received an email from someone named KS and pointed out the last word is actually سار which means to walk. The letter س was very stylized it looks like another word! so the inscription as a whole is وصل من سا. Thanks KS! 🙂

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Appreciation – İznik Tiles

İznik Tiles is the type of ceramics developed and generally created in a town named (obviously) İznik in Turkey. It has a significant place in Turkish art, since it decorates many of Turkey’s famous landmarks and finest artifacts. This is especially apparent when 1989 was proclaimed İznik Year because of the ceramics contribution to Turkish (specifically art) History.

History of the Iznik, its Ceramics and Pottery.

İznik is a town in Turkey that sits near the Lake İznik. The site of this town is formerly known as Nicaea, famous for the Councils of Nicaea. It is founded by one of Alexander The Great’s successor, Lysimakhos, who named the town after his wife. As it is one of a crossroad for a trade route, it became a great important trading city. Greek, Roman and Byzantine traders frequent the city and also settled there as well – this can be seen from the remnants of Roman theatre. It is a significant site for Christianity as well, for it held Councils of Nicaea. In 325AD, during the reign of Constantine, the first Council of Nicaea was held against the Arian Heresy, which in turn decides one of the most fundamental part of Christian theology – the argument of whether Jesus is a divinity or a mere mortal. The doctrine of the Trinity was then decided in 381AD, where it consists of Jesus, The Father and the Holy Spirit. The second Council of Nicaea met in 787AD held in the Church of Hagia Sophia (modeled after the one in Constantinople) where it decides the issue of Iconography in Christian belief. It was briefly ruled by the Seljuk Turks in the 13th century, but was again under the rule of the Second Ottoman Sultan, Sultan Orhan Gazi I in 1331.

The city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) fell in 1453, and with that the importance of İznik also dwindle. However, it later became famous for its pottery making in the 17th century, called İznik Çini (Çini basically means Chinese in Turkish) copying the Chinese porcelain preferred by the Turkish Sultans. It was used to decorate many buildings, for example mosques (for example the Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul) and palaces (Topkapi Palace). It remained the place for quality İznik Çini, however, soon after the industry went to Istanbul.

Plate with blue and white spiral decoration. Earthenware with painted decoration on slip, under lead glaze, İznik ceramic, ca. 1530–1540. photographer – Marie-Lan Nguyen. Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

The Designs and its Origins –
Chinese porcelain was very popular and sought after by the wealthy by the 14th Century, so İznik potters was to compete with the fine imported porcelains. They copied Chinese Porcelains from  the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. they can easily copy them because the motifs already influenced early Timurid art. It gained the favours of not only local patrons but also their European counterpart. The style of blue designs with floral and vegetal motifs characteristic of the İznik tiles are called Baba Nakkas, a popular style during the rule of Sultan Mehmet II. However the style gradually changes during the reign of Sultan Bayezid with the incorporation of interlaced designs and Chinese cloud bands. During the reign of Sultan Selim I, the industry moved to Istanbul in which the Saz design was introduced, pioneered by one of the sixteen painters named Sah Kulu. His designs include spiral scrolls – the so-called Golden Horn – derived from Tughras (Royal Seals) of the Sultans, particularly the Tughra of Suleyman the Magnificent.

the colours are traditionally blue and white, but turquoise was added in the 1530s. In the 1540s, more colours in the shades of  mauve, purples and greens were added. The designs, as noted above, mostly derived from the Chinese motifs, but soon after, motifs such as human or animal representations are introduced. Perhaps the most popular representations and motifs used by the İznik potters are extensive designs of flowers, trees, pomegranates and artichokes as well as hyacinths, lilies, tulips, carnations, roses, scrollwork and geometric designs. The craftsmen created many items from decorations for buildings to daily items such as plates, bowls, ewer, lamps, candlesticks, vases and the like. The best ones are produced during the reign of  Suleyman the Magnificent up till the 17th Century.

Tile panel with flowers. Earthenware, transparent glaze, painted underglaze on slip. Turkey: Iznik, second half of the 16th century

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Appreciation – Muqarnas

You might be wondering what is Muqarnas. Many, including myself before studying about it, are not aware of the term, even that some of us are actually lucky enough to walk underneath these cavernous architectural beauty.

Jame Mosque of Isfahan, Iran.

Muqarnas are essentially an architectural feature of geometric designs in 3D. The Islamic geometry were represented in small niches arranged in such fashion resembling caverns or stalactites, arranged in tiers usually under domes, Iwans, Mihrabs, Minarets, Squinches, columns, cornices and most commonly, under arches and vaults. It can be constructed with a host of materials – bricks, stucco, mosaics, ceramic tiles, plaster panels, mirror glasses, wood and paint.

A collage of muqarnas depicting different type of materials used to build it. From left upper to right lower – Wood, Mirror Glass, Paint, Plaster panels, Stucco, Ceramic tiles, Stone and Bricks

The construction of Muqarnas utilizes a system of complex mathematics : a tribute to the great mathematical achievements of Muslim scholars, as of most of Islamic decoration.

Muqarnas derived its name from Arabic مقرنص , meaning stalactite vaults. Developed in north-eastern Iran in the middle of the tenth century, it went to the northern Africa regions as the Islamic Empire expands. As it reached Al-Andalus of Spain it took on another form named Mocárabe. However, it is strictly in stalactite or honeycomb form, built with the clever arrangements of vertical prisms. Even though the terms Muqarnas and Mocárabe are used interchangeably, but Muqarnas does not necessarily have the same formation as Mocárabe.

An example of Mocárabe in Alhambra, Spain.

It is thought that this architectural feature was inspired by the story of the enlightenment of the prophet Muhammad – He received his revelation from God, bestowed upon him by the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) in a cave where he meditated in Mecca called Cave of Hira. The Muqarnas and Mocárabe reflects the cave with its stalactites adorning the ceiling and vaults. The usage of geometrical designs perhaps reflect the perfection of God, and how He is central in all life on Earth and its Heavens.

Perhaps the best example of Muqarnas are in Isfahan, Iran, where this architectural feature originated from. The famous Jame Mosque in Isfahan is one of the best place to observe and appreciate this architectural wonder, especially the famous four gates or Iwan, heavily decorated with Islamic art and of course, Muqarnas.

There are quite a number of styles these Muqarnas are executed – Square Style Muqarnas, the most common style in the North African region and Al-Andalus, Pole Table Style Muqarnas are more prominent in Middle Eastern area of Iran and the surrounding area. Then there is the other styles including Sinan, mostly in Turkey, Triangular, also in Turkey and Egypt and also, Syrian and Egyptian Style. And then, of course, the Mocárabe that are most prominent in Spain.

A Collage of Muqarnas and Mocárabe – From left, The Hall of  The Two Sisters, Alhambra, Spain with its Mocárabe and square Style Muqarnas. Center, Masjid-I-Shykh, Isfahan, Iran with its Pole Table Style Muqarna and on the Right, Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey with Muqarnas designed by Sinan, a chief architect of the palace (Royalty of Turkey)

In conclusion, the architectural features of Muqarna and Mocárabe are one of the most prominent feature of Islamic decorative art, but somehow it eludes the knowledge of many people. These features represent the mathematical prowess of Muslim scholars, as well as reflecting the spirituality of Islam.

Acknowledgments –

http://www.tamabi.ac.jp/idd/shiro/muqarnas/ – extensive study of Muqarnas, plus resources. I took some of the pics from there.

wikipedia.org – for some of the pics as well as descriptions and history.

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