x0x The last great master of Ottoman miniature
By Necdet Sakaoglu
Among all the Ottoman architects, painters, poets and horticulturalists
who left their mark on the Tulip Era, the poets Nedim and Seyyid Vehbi and
the miniaturist Levni stand out from all the rest. The spectacular
manuscript dating from this era in the early 18th century entitled
Surname-i Vehbi was written by Seyyid Vehbi and illustrated by Levni. The
book describes the ceremonies and festivities held at OkmeydanI in
Istanbul to celebrate the circumcision of the sons of Sultan Ahmed III.
These began on 13 September 1720 and continued with processions, displays
and feasting for 20 days. Although the book bears the name of its author
Vehbi it is Levnis miniatures for which it is most valued as both work of
art and documentary record of its day. Each of the 137 paintings reflect
in vivid detail the costume of the Ottoman court, and contemporary
Levni also illustrated two costume albums with miniatures depicting 21
male and 20 female figures, and portraits of the 22 sultans for Dimitri
Kandemirs Ottoman History. Levni was at the same time a musician and poet
who wrote qasides for Sultan Ahmed III (1703-1730) and epic ballads in a
Levni was a pseudonym, meaning lover of colour, and represented in place
of a signature by a graceful flower in one corner of his miniature
paintings. His real name was Abdulcelil and he came from the city of
Edirne, the former Ottoman capital where the court often removed for the
summer, and where the rebellion of 1703 which brought Ahmed III to the
throne took place. Little is known about his life, but it was after that
date that he arrived in Istanbul to spend most of that sultans reign as an
artist in the palace painting studio or Nakka$hane.
The work of Levni represents the last golden age of Ottoman miniature
painting, and the start of a new period in the fields of art and culture.
His work is in striking contrast to that of earlier Turkish miniaturists
like Sinan Bey, famous for his portrait of Sultan Mehmed II (1451-1481)
smelling a rose, Nigari (d.1572) who painted portraits of Suleyman the
Magnificent, Ottoman admiral Barbaros Hayrettin Pa$a and Selim II, Nak$i
(late 16th-early 17th century) who painted portraits of seyhs and scholars
for $akayIk-I Numaniye, or Lokman Celebi (d.1601), who illustrated many
outstanding manuscripts like the $ehname, the Hunername, the Selim$ahname
and the $ehin$ahname. Marked western influence can be seen in the move
from traditional stylisation to increased realism.
There is a new sense of depth and freedom of movement in Levnis paintings,
and for the first time he lends facial expression to his figures. The love
of colour expressed in his own pseudonym can clearly be seen in the way he
balances and combines colours in his work. There is a strong sense of
light and shade, and his figures are animated. His miniatures are full
page plates instead of being fitted between the writing. Although he
introduced so much that was original and in many ways a departure from
tradition, his paintings remained a celebration of what could be achieved
within the context of miniature art in its last great phase.
His realism, romanticism and depth can be seen to spectacular effect in,
for example, his Young Woman, Woman Smelling a Rose, Young Man, Sultan
Osman II on Horseback, the BostancI, the Page, the Peyk Soldier, and Cengi
Dancer. In his Four Slave Girl Musicians there is such a liveliness and
sense of joy that we can almost hear the music they are playing.
* Necdet SakaoGlu is a researcher and writer.
[Note by TRH: See the following links to view some of Levni's works: