Miniature Work


This is the name given to the art of producing very finely detailed, small paintings. In Europe in the Middle Ages, handwritten manuscripts would be decorated by painting capital letters red. Lead oxide, known as 'minium' in Latin and which gave a particularly pleasant colour, was used for this purpose. That is where the word 'miniature' derives from. In Turkey, the art of miniature painting used to be called 'nakış' or 'tasvir,' with the former being more commonly employed. The artist was known as a 'nakkaş' or 'musavvir.' Miniature work was generally applied to paper, ivory and similar materials.

The miniature is an art style with a long history in both the Eastern and Western worlds. There are those, however, who maintain that it was originally an Eastern art, from where it made its way to the West. Eastern and Western miniature art is very similar, although differences can be observed in colour, form and subject matter. Scale was kept small since the art was used to decorate books. That is a common characteristic. Eastern and Turkish miniatures also possess a number of other features. The outside of the miniature is usually decorated with a form of embellishment known as 'tezhip.' A paint similar to water colour was used for miniatures, although rather more gum arabic was used during the mixing process. Very thin brushes made from cat fur and known as 'fur brushes' were used to draw the lines and fill in the fine detail. Other brushes were employed for the painting itself. White lead with gum Arabic added was applied to the surface of the paper to be painted. A thin coat of gold powder would also be applied to the surface to make the various colours transparent.

The oldest known miniatures were done on papyrus in Egypt in the 2nd century BC. Handwritten manuscripts decorated with miniatures can then be observed in the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Syriac periods. With the spread of Christianity, miniatures began to be used to ornament the Bible in particular. The development of the art came towards the end of the 8th century. In the 12th century, miniatures ceased to be directly linked in form to the text they were decorating, and also ceased to be exclusively religious in tone, with secular examples appearing. Beautiful and splendid miniatures continued to be created in Europe until the development of the printing press. After that time, they were more usually used in the form of portraits on the backs of medallions. After the 17th century, the application of miniatures to ivory began to spread. Later still, as interest in the art of the miniature began to fall, it continued as a traditional art form among a small number of artists.

Great importance was attached to the miniature during the Seljuk period. Seljuk miniature was considerably influenced by Persia, on account of their close relations with that country. They also produced Abdüddevle, who painted a portrait of Mevlana, and other famous miniaturists. In the Ottoman Empire, the Seljuk and Persian influence continued up until the 18th century. During the time of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, a miniaturist by the name of Sinan Bey made a portrait of the sultan, and also trained another artist called Baba Nakkaş during the reign of Bayezid II. In the 16th century, the artists Nigari, known as Reis Haydar, Nakşi and Şah Kulu won considerable renown. During that same time, Aka Mirek of Horasan, a student of Bihzad, was called to Istanbul and made 'başnakkaş' or chief artist. Mustafa Çelebi, Selimiyeli Reşid, Süleyman Çelebi and Levni were the best known miniaturists of the 18tth century. Of these, levn' constituted a turning point in Turkish miniature painting. Levn' moved beyond the traditional conception of the art and developed his own unique style. Under the influence of the renewal movements in the 19th century, Western art also began to affect the art of miniature painting. The miniature slowly began to give way to contemporary art as we understand the concept today. However, it still survives as a traditional art in Turkey, in the same was as it does in the West.


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