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SPRING IN OTTOMAN ART
2001 / MAY
The mid-16th century saw a return to naturalism in the Ottoman decorative arts, and one of the most popular motifs was fruit trees in blossom. This symbol of spring was often combined with tulips, roses and other flowers, and depicted sometimes as an entire tree and sometimes as branches alone. Another form was blossoming branches arranged like bouquet in a vase, or encircling a medallion like a creeper.

It is difficult to identify the species with certainty, although the presence or absence of leaves, or the position of the blossom on the branch gives clues as to whether it might be plum, cherry or apple. Trees in blossom appeared in almost every sphere of decoration at this period, and like many other innovations, originated in the arts of the book. The finest miniature paintings and illumination were executed by artists working in the palace workshops, and the new motifs and compositions which they created inspired other craftsmen producing objects of beauty in many different techniques and materials for the palace.
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SPRING IN OTTOMAN ART
2001 / MAY
Karamemi, an artist who began working at the palace in the middle of the 16th century, used the spring blossom motif in a manuscript book of poetry, the Muhibbi Divani (Istanbul University Library T. 5467) , whose illumination bears his signature. Blossom appears in the frontispiece, marginal decoration in gold halarîa work, and the tiny illuminated panels separating sections of text in this manuscrip.

The composition of the frontispiece was repeated by the same artist in a Koran (Topkapi Palace Library Y. 999) and in the Suleymanname (H. 1517). In another manuscript in the Suleymaniye Library (Laleli 16) there is a superb composition of spring motifs executed in gold and pastel colours.
The compositions on the endleafs of a manuscript of Forty Traditions of the Prophet (Topkapi Palace Library EH 2851) seem to carry us into a beautiful garden on a spring day.
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SPRING IN OTTOMAN ART
2001 / MAY

Here the trees in blossom are worked in lacquer. Although there is no signature, we know beyond any trace of doubt that this is the work of Karamemi. The compositions on the endleafs of a manuscript of Forty Traditions of the Prophet (Topkapi Palace Library EH 2851) seem to carry us into a beautiful garden on a spring day. Here the trees in blossom are worked in lacquer. Although there is no signature, we know beyond any trace of doubt that this is the work of Karamemi.

Blossom also appears on textiles of many kinds. The campaign tents abandoned after the Siege of Vienna at the end of the 17th century by grand vizier Kara Mustafa Pasa, and which have been carefully preserved at the Wavel Museum in the Polish city of Cracow, have several examples of blossom worked on felt amongst their designs.

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SPRING IN OTTOMAN ART
2001 / MAY
A multiple prayer mat in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul has a tree in blossom as the main motif in each of the panels. Again we find this motif on a caftan worn by Sultan Ahmed I as a child.

Best known, perhaps, of all blossom designs are those on iznik ware tiles, and examples of these are so numerous that it would take pages to list them in full. Finest of all are the 16th and 17th century tiles in Topkapi Palace Harem, and others which come first to mind can be seen in Rustem Pasa Mosque, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Haghia Sophia Library, the Imperial Kasir of Yeni Mosque, the Mausoleum of Hurrem Sultan, Eski Valide Mosque in Uskudar, and Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.
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SPRING IN OTTOMAN ART
2001 / MAY


Once upon a time Istanbul was a city filled with gardens, and those gardens with fruit trees. Today when there are increasingly fewer fruit trees, we miss seeing trees in blossom, but we can take consolation in the beautiful works of art which they inspired.

 

 

 

* Prof Dr Yildiz Demiriz is an art historian

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