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Ottoman Turkish Art

The architecture of the Turks, as seen at Constantinople, is in all its structural features mainly based upon the early Byzantine monuments; their system of ornamentation, however, is a modification of the Arabian, bearing about the same relation to this style as Elizabethan ornament does to Italian Renaissance.

When the art of one people is adopted by another having the same religion, but differing in natural character and instincts, we should expect to find a deficiency in all those qualities in which the borrowing people are inferior to their predecessors. And thus it is with the art of the Turks as compared with the art of the Arabs; there is the same difference in the amount of elegance and refinement in the art of the'two people as exists in their national character.

We are, however, inclined to believe that the Turks, or Ottomans, have rarely themselves practised the arts; but that they have rather commanded the execution than been themselves executants. All their mosques and public buildings present a mixed style. On the same building, side by side with ornaments derived from Arabian and Persian floral ornaments, we find debased Roman and Renaissance details, leading to the belief that these buildings have mostly been executed by artists differing in religion from themselves. In more recent times, the Turks have been the first of the Islamic races to abandon the traditional style of building of their forefathers, and to adopt the prevailing fashions of the day in their architecture; the modern buildings and palaces being not only the work of European artists, but designed in the most approved European style.

The productions of the Turks at the Great Exhibition of 1851 were the least perfect of all the Mohammedan exhibiting nations.

Turkish Ornament
Turkish Ornament.

Turkish Ornament
Turkish Ornament.

In Mr. M. Digby Wyatt's admirable record of the state of the Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century, will be found specimens of Turkish embroidery exhibited in 1851, and which may be compared with the many valuable specimens of Indian embroidery represented in the same work.

Elizabethan Ornament
Elizabethan Ornament.

Turkish Ornament
Turkish Ornament.

It will readily be seen, from the simple matter of their embroidery, that the art-instinct of the Turks must be very inferior to that of the Indians. The Indian embroidery is as perfect in distribution of form, and in all the principles of ornamentation, as the most elaborate and important article of decoration.

The only examples we have of perfect ornamentation are to be found in Turkey carpets; but these are chiefly executed in Asia Minor, and most probably not by Turks. The designs are thoroughly Arabian, differing from Persian carpets in being much more conventional in the treatment of foliage.

By comparing Plate XXXVII. with Plates XXXII. and XXXIII. the differences of style will be readily perceived. The general principles of the distribution of form are the same, but there are a few minor differences that it will be desirable to point out.

Painted Ornaments from the Mosque of Soliman at Constantinople
Painted Ornaments from the Mosque of Soliman at Constantinople, Plate XXXVII.

Arabian Ornaments of the Thirteenth Century from Cairo
Arabian Ornaments of the Thirteenth Century from Cairo, Plate XXXII.

Arabian Ornaments of the Thirteenth Century from Cairo
Arabian Ornaments of the Thirteenth Century from Cairo, Plate XXXIII.

The surface of an ornament both in the Arabian and Moresque styles is only slightly rounded, and the enrichment of the surface is obtained by sinking lines on this surface; or where the surface was left plain, the additional pattern upon pattern was obtained by painting.

The Turkish ornament, on the contrary, presents a carved surface, and such ornaments as we find painted in the Arabian MSS., Plate XXXIV., in black lines on the gold flowers, are here carved on the surface, the effect being not nearly so broad as that produced by the sunk feathering of the Arabian and Moresque.

Portion of an Illuminated Copy of the Koran
Portion of an Illuminated Copy of the Koran, Plate XXXIV.

Another peculiarity, and one which at once distinguishes a piece of Turkish ornament from Arabian, is the great abuse which was made of the re-entering curve AA.

This is very prominent in the Arabian, but more especially in the Persian styles. See Plate XLVI.

Ornaments from Persian MSS. in the British Museum
Ornaments from Persian MSS. in the British Museum, Plate XLVI.

With the Moors it is no longer a feature, and appears only exceptionally.

This peculiarity was adopted in the Elizabethan ornament, which, through the Renaissance ot France and Italy, was derived from the East, in imitation of the damascened work which was at that period so common.

It will be seen on reference to Plate XXXVI. that this swell always occurs on the inside of the spiral curve of the main stem; with Elizabethan ornament the swell often occurs indifferently on the inside and on the outside.

Ornaments in Relief from Mosques, Tombs, and Fountains at Constantinople
Ornaments in Relief from Mosques, Tombs, and Fountains at Constantinople, Plate XXXVI.

It is very difficult, nay, almost impossible, thoroughly to explain by words differences in style ot ornament having such a strong family resemblance as the Persian, Arabian, and Turkish; yet the eye readily detects them, much in the same way as a Roman statue is distinguished from a Greek. The general principles remaining the same in the Persian, the Arabian, and the Turkish styles of ornament, there will be found a peculiarity in the proportions of the masses, more or less grace in the flowing of the curves, a fondness for particular directions in the leading lines, and a peculiar mode of inter- weaving forms, the general form of the conventional leafage ever remaining the same. The relative degree of fancy, delicacy, or coarseness, with which these are drawn, will at once distinguish them as the works of the refined and spiritual Persian, the not less refined but reflective Arabian, or the unimaginative Turk.

Decoration of the Dome of the Tomb of Soliman I at Constantinople
Decoration of the Dome of the Tomb of Soliman I at Constantinople, Plate XXXVIII.

Plate XXXVIII. is a portion of the decoration of the dome of the tomb of Soliman I at Constantinople; it is the most perfect specimen of Turkish ornament with which we are acquainted, and nearly approaches the Arabian. One great feature of Turkish ornament is the predominance of green and black; and, in fact, in the modern decoration of Cairo the same thing is observed. Green is much more prominent than in ancient examples where blue is chiefly used.

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