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Letters of Enchantment Museum of Calligraphic Art
2003 / September

Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512) was a lover of the fine arts and above all calligraphy. Appropriately, therefore, his medrese or college is today home to the Museum of Calligraphic Art. This building, which is part of his mosque complex, stands to the northwest of Bayezid Mosque. Sultan Bayezid II was a pupil of the great calligrapher Seyh Hamdullah, and held his master in such respect that he used to hold his inkwell while he wrote. If Bayezid had foreseen that his medrese would be used to house masterpieces of the art of calligraphy he would no doubt have been delighted. The medrese was built by the architect Yusuf bin Papas and is constructed entirely of ashlar. It consists of a quadrangle with a classroom in the centre and rows of chambers for the students along three sides. In the 16th century the seyhulislams or highest clerical functionaries of the Ottoman Empire taught here. In the 1940s major repairs were carried out to the building and for the next forty years it was used as the Municipal Library.

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Letters of Enchantment Museum of Calligraphic Art
2003 / September

Then it was restored by the Department of Pious Endowments and on 28 October 1984 opened as the Museum of Calligraphic Art, the only one of its kind in the world. As well as manuscripts and calligraphic inscription panels, the museum collections include a wide variety of objects made of stone, glass, fabric, metal and other materials that bear inscriptions. Altogether 277 items from the collections are exhibited here. In the arcades and rooms surrounding the quadrangle garden are displayed an astonishing variety of outstanding calligraphic art classified according to the different styles of script. There are Korans written in kufi, nesih and muhakkak scripts by renowned calligraphers of past centuries, manuscripts and calligraphic panels by Ottoman, Indian and Maghribi calligraphers in sulus, muhakkak, talik and other styles, inscriptions delicately worked in cut paper on wooden panels, certificates presented to graduates in calligraphy, hilyes (descriptions of the Prophet Muhammed), embroidered inscriptions,

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Letters of Enchantment Museum of Calligraphic Art
2003 / September
mesk (calligraphic exercises), imperial monograms, and calligraphic albums in sulus and nesih. Korans are the largest category of exhibits, some in Arabic and some in Turkish translation. The oldest items in the museum are a Koran written in the 9th-10th century by Mehmed bin Idris in the kufi script, and 11th century treatises in kufi. Among the most magnificent manuscripts are Mehmed Zaifi's Anthology of Treatises written in nesih, Mehmedoglu Cezeri's Serh-i Salibi, and a commentary on the Koran by an unknown calligrapher. There are numerous examples of calligraphy by Ottoman sultans, including a sulus inscription panel reading 'Salvation lies in truth' by Ahmed III (1703-30), and an inscribed composition in sülüs and nesih by Sultan Abdulmecid (1839-61). There is also a bookrest made in walnut and rosewood by Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909), who was a skilled cabinetmaker.
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Letters of Enchantment Museum of Calligraphic Art
2003 / September

Women calligraphers are represented in the collection with a talik and sülüs inscription embroidered in couched gold work by Nasiye, and a talik inscription panel by Selma Hanim, who ranked with the most eminent Turkish calligraphers. One of the finest examples is a panel in the sulüs, nesih and gubari scripts by Seyh Muhammed Selim el Kadiri in 1880-1887. This inscription is worked in the decorative calligraphic form known as musenna or mirror script, whereby words are written twice, once in mirror image, forming a symmetric design. Since this calligrapher belonged to the Kadiri mystic order, the inscription is shaped to form the silhouette of a seated Kadiri dervish. An imperial monogram or tugra composed of the names of the Seven Sleepers and adorned with flowers is another example of calligraphy as pictorial art.

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Letters of Enchantment Museum of Calligraphic Art
2003 / September

Perhaps the most priceless items in the museum are examples of makili script, one of the earliest types, written in gold on a black ground. A whole section is devoted to calligraphic exercises by well known calligraphers, and the most spectacular of all is the talik exercise written on a lily leaf by Katipzade Mehmed Refii. An exercise in talik by Mehmed Esat-ül Yesari reveals how the tip of the pen was used to form the proportions of the letters. Two diplomas dating from the late Ottoman period written in the divani, sulus and nesih scripts are interesting both as calligraphy and for the history of education, since they give the subjects studied and the grades each student received. Calligraphic albums form another interesting category. The 19th century example by Mehmed Rustu in sulus and nesih is beautifully decorated in the style of the period. Some of the writing is executed in filigree paperwork, leather, wood, mother of pearl, ivory and other diverse materials mounted on wood, fabric, paper and leather.

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Letters of Enchantment Museum of Calligraphic Art
2003 / September

Another inscription by the same calligrapher is the name Muhammed worked in filigree paper and mounted on wood. Other interesting exhibits are various pieces of equipment used by calligraphers, such as lacquered pen boxes, makta (ivory tablets on which reed pen nibs were cut), penknives, muhre (paper polishing stones), reed pens and paper shears. The museum sometimes holds exhibitions of contemporary calligraphy and illumination by Turkish and foreign artists, with the aim of encouraging traditional Turkish arts of the book. This picturesque old building has a tranquil atmosphere all its own, and within its walls you can almost imagine yourself back in earlier centuries. Here you can discover the enchantment of letters, and the beauty of writing as art as well as meaning.

* Dr Zubeyde Cihan Ozsayiner is Director of the Museum of Calligraphic Art.

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