The term miniature is generally used for very finely processed small size pictures and this type of painting arts. It is thought that the word miniature is derived from the Latin word “miniare” which means “to paint with red” and then passed to French as “miniature”. When we look at the sources of the Ottoman period, it is seen that the words “depiction” or “embroidery” were preferred instead of this term.
One of the most important features of miniature art is that the subject to be told is conveyed completely. Therefore, perspective is not used in miniature art. Distance and height are not specified by color or shadows; miniatures are pictures without light, shadow, emotion and European perspective. While it is illustrated with a technique called “vertical” or “stacked perspective” within the “golden rectangle” in geometry in accordance with the page ratio of the book; height increases or decreases according to the importance of the person. This is accomplished by placing the foreground on the paper at the bottom and the rest on the top. The figures are arranged in a way that they do not cover each other completely. The subject is processed down to the finest details, regardless of distance.
A peculiar feature of Turkish miniatures is that colors are often used as a means of abstraction, flat, bright and free from shadows. Another feature is that there is no heavy gilding in the margins like the Iranian miniatures. While historical, literary and scientific subjects are generally covered in miniature art; Turks mostly preferred to reflect history. The illustrated manuscripts describing the wars, military expeditions and festivals of the Ottoman Empire are handled in a realistic style, apart from the examples in other Islamic countries. While this feature of Turkish miniatures offers us the opportunity to follow the customs and traditions, customs and traditions of the period in which it was made, as well as the Ottoman Turkish history; Each of these works has become a historical document. Ottoman miniatures, which have a privileged place in Islamic book art in terms of the richness of visual art, are also gaining value by being a source of inspiration for post-Republic Turkish painting as well as creating visual documents used in many researches in history, sociology, cultural history and other fields.
It is thought that miniature in the Turks emerged in Central Asia during the Uighurs period (745-840). The miniatures created by the Uyghur Turks in the Turfan region in the middle of the eighth century later became the sources of Turkish miniature art. Some leaf fragments with miniatures that have survived show that the Mani Religion was effective in miniatures of this period.
After the collapse of the Uyghurs, this movement continued and the first Islamic miniatures were created by the Seljuk Turks. With the arrival of Turks to other countries such as Baghdad, Egypt and Syria, the first Arab miniatures began to be seen. From the 11th century onwards, the effects of Byzantine and Central Asian painting art, as well as the local artistic view, are observed in many works made in various art centers from Baghdad to the interior of Anatolia.
In Islamic culture, the monumental painting art only existed during the Umayyad period, in the 7th and 8th centuries. In this period, the ancient cultures in the new lands conquered were contacted with the centuries-long tradition of painting, as a result, naturalist style paintings and mosaics were made on the walls of some religious and civil buildings, reflecting the influence of Late Hellenistic and Sassanid art traditions.
On the other hand, some changes took place in the ninth century. Although there is no verse in the Qur’an that prohibits painting, it was judged that painting living beings was a sin due to the hadith interpretations made by some religious scholars of the period, and therefore such depictions were prohibited. Since that period, wall paintings and mosaics, which are building decorations, have been replaced by book decorations. During the Abbasid period, the book started to be illustrated again due to the changes in opinion on this subject. During this period, translations of ancient scientific works were made, and during these intense translation activities, the pictures in the books were abstracted and copied. Popular literature books of the period were also decorated with depictions and schematic patterns resembling shadow play.
In the 12th century, it was observed that the miniature was directly related to the text to be decorated and not only religious miniatures but also secular miniatures were started to be made. Until the invention of the printing machine, very beautiful and magnificent miniatures were made in Europe. After that, miniature was mostly used for portraits on medallions. After the 17th century, miniatures made on ivory became widespread. Later, although the interest in miniature art decreased, it was continued as a traditional art in a narrow artist circle.
During the Seljuk period, importance was attached to miniature. Due to the Seljuk’s relations with Iran, the art of miniature was under the influence of Iran. Abduddevle who painted Mevlana and other famous miniature artists were brought up. During the Ottoman Empire period, Iran and Seljuk influence continued until the 18th century. During the Fatih period (1451-1481), a miniaturist named Sinan Bey, who also painted the sultan, During II. Bayezid period (1481-1512) an artist known as Baba Nakkaş was raised. In the 16th century, Nigari, known as Reis Haydar, Nakşî and Şah Kulu became famous. Mustafa Çelebi, Selimiyeli Reşid, Süleyman Çelebi and Levnî are famous miniaturists of the 18th century.
Of these, Levnî is a milestone in Turkish miniature art. Levni went beyond the traditional understanding and developed a unique form. As a result of the westernization movement from the beginning of the 18th century, three-dimensional designs were created with voluminous objects painted with shades using traditional technique and elements that have been given depth by the evaluation of European official rules. Towards the end of the same century, with the replacement of glue earthen paint with gouache and watercolor, the manuscripts were painted with techniques that ended the traditional miniature art. In this period, the depiction spilled over from the pages of the book onto the walls and canvases. At the beginning of the 19th century, Ottoman miniature loses its importance. The artists of this period were the pioneers of the new painting tradition, which will become widespread with the Western painting education started in the schools opened after the Tanzimat, with the efforts to reinterpret Western influences in the works they produced without breaking with the traditions.