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Opening "Letters in Gold"

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    Opening Letters in Gold * Sakip Sabanci, head of Turkey s leading financial and industrial conglomerate Sabanci Holding, sees fine art as a bridge to human
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 10, 1998
      Opening "Letters in Gold"

      * Sakip Sabanci, head of Turkey's leading financial and industrial
      conglomerate Sabanci Holding, sees fine art as a bridge to human
      and international relations
      * This is the first time that an exhibition devoted exclusively to
      Ottoman calligraphy has been shown in the New World
      * Islamic calligraphy has always occupied a central position in the
      arts of Islam

      Istanbul - Turkish Daily News

      The "Letters in Gold: Ottoman Calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci
      Collection, Istanbul" opens today at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in
      New York, giving visitors a chance to see some of the best examples in
      the largest private collection of calligraphic work in Turkey.

      Sakip Sabanci, head of Turkey's leading financial and industrial
      conglomerate Sabanci Holding, sees fine art as a bridge to human and
      international relations and is very proud to offer this first
      exhibition dedicated exclusively to Ottoman calligraphy.

      The exhibition has been made possible by Sabanci Holding/Akbank of

      Attending the opening are Berna Yilmaz, the wife of Turkish Prime
      Minister Mesut Yilmaz, State Minister Cavit Kavak and Culture Minister
      Istemihan Talay.

      For the next three months the Sabanci Calligraphy Collection will show
      American art lovers one of the historic and cultural treasures left
      from the Ottoman Empire. The collection includes works ranging from
      the 15th to the 20th century.

      The opening starts with the raising of the exhibition banner on the
      front of the museum, where it will remain over the main entrance door
      for the three months that the exhibition is up. In the evening the
      exhibition will be viewed by specially invited guests. This will be
      followed by a cocktail party, a performance of the Mevlevi Dance Group
      and a gala dinner in the Egyptian Temple of Dendur recreated within
      the museum.

      Seventy-one exceptionally fine examples of Ottoman Calligraphy are
      included in the exhibition, such as Kuran manuscripts, albums, large
      scale decorative inscriptions and firmans (decrees by the Ottoman
      sultans). This is the first time that an exhibition devoted
      exclusively to Ottoman calligraphy has been shown in the New World.

      In addition to the calligraphic works, three very valuable paintings
      from the Ottoman period will be shown. These are "Mosque Door," by the
      last caliph Abdulmecit Efendi; a self portrait of Osman Hamdi Bey
      reading a Kuran; and Sevket Dag's "Inside the Mosque," in which he has
      portrayed the Aya Sofya.

      Calligraphy -- spiritual geometry

      An aesthetic dictum found in early Islamic sources says that
      calligraphy is "a spiritual geometry produced by a material

      Experts at the Met say that because it was originally formalized from
      the need to transcribe the Kuran in the seventh century, Islamic
      calligraphy has always occupied a central position in the arts of
      Islam. One could define it as writing of aesthetic value in characters
      based on the Arabic alphabet and script.

      Through the centuries, the greatest master calligraphers developed
      different styles, always striving for balance, elegance and harmony in
      their work. From the early, angular so-called "kufic" script,
      calligraphy later evolved mainly into a cursive style (generally
      called naskhi) in the 11th to 12th centuries. According to the various
      calligraphic styles that developed, cursive script was assigned
      different names often based on the relationship between the height and
      the width of the letters and of their endings.

      Development of Ottoman calligraphy

      As Ottoman calligraphy evolved from the 15th century, soon after the
      Ottoman army captured Constantinople and the sultan made it his
      capital, this art form flourished and was embellished by great
      masters. Featured in the exhibition are works by the most important
      masters including the highly celebrated Seyh Hamdullah.

      Among the variety of works in the exhibition are lavishly illuminated
      copies of Kurans and other manuscripts with religious contents;
      murakkaas (calligraphic albums, often of horizontal format and
      sometimes mounted in an accordion-type binding); and individual leaves
      from such albums (called kit'as), frequently framed with marbleized
      paper borders.

      The exhibition also includes large calligraphic compositions of pious
      inspiration, called levhas, including one by Sultan Mahmut II from the
      19th century, which were intended for framing and were usually hung in
      religious buildings (they were written in large script in order to be
      legible from a distance and were ornamented with artistically
      decorated borders); another type of large, vertical panel for the same
      purposes as the levha, called hilye, which were usually mounted on
      wooden boards; and finally a number of long scrolls containing
      official documents such as imperial edicts or firmans, warrants and
      patents. These scrolls always included a tugra, the splendid and
      imposing imperial monogram of the sultan currently on the throne, at
      the beginning.

      The exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art continues until
      December 13, 1998. After that it will travel to the Los Angeles County
      Museum of Art where it will be on show from February 25 to May 17.

      Thoughts on my collection*

      Sakip Sabanci

      I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to exhibit a
      selection of Ottoman calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci Collection at
      such prestigious, world-renowned institutions as The Metropolitan
      Museum of Art, New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The
      Sakip Sabanci Collection of Ottoman Calligraphy includes works dating
      from the 15th through the mid-20th century and is the largest such
      private collection in Turkey. It is particularly satisfying for me to
      be able to share with an American audience this remarkable art that is
      so emblematic of my own national heritage, but which is still little
      known in the West.

      Among the many glorious arts of the Ottoman period, pride of place was
      given to calligraphy, which was regarded as the most prestigious form
      of art. The Ottoman sultans, some of whom were themselves accomplished
      in the art of writing, supported calligraphers in much the same way as
      princes and wealthy patrons in the West sponsored painters. Again, as
      in Western painting through the 19th century, Turkish calligraphers
      shaped their art through study and emulation of the works of earlier
      masters. Apart from the obvious beauty of Ottoman calligraphy, what
      most appeals to me is the important relationship between master and
      apprentice and the infinite capacity for this art to renew itself from
      one generation to the next. This notion of respect and veneration for
      earlier generations has special resonance for me.

      My father, Haci Omer Sabanci, was born in the village of Akcakaya, in
      central Anatolia, the son of a poor family of farmers. He did not have
      the opportunity to go to school; he did not learn to read and write.
      At the age of 20, he left home in search of work, walking 125 miles to
      the city of Adana, where he began working as a laborer in the cotton
      fields. He took advantage of the opportunities offered to him and
      finally became the owner of a cotton yarn and textile factory. In
      time, his business grew, and he moved to Istanbul. Although Istanbul's
      cosmopolitan environment gave my father a healthy appetite for art and
      culture, and he began to collect antiques, he never forgot his roots.
      My father instilled in his children a pride in our heritage; we are as
      closely linked to our past as we are to one another. He also
      inculcated in us a deep appreciation for education and a love of art.
      As part of the modernization movement initiated by Mustafa Kemal
      Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, the Latin alphabet was
      introduced in 1928 and the Arabic alphabet was virtually abandoned. I
      belong to the generation that learned to read and write modern
      Turkish. Although I do not know the Arabic alphabet, Ottoman
      calligraphy has become my main focus as a collector. Initially I was
      attracted by the beauty and majesty of this art form, later on I came
      to understand the importance of protecting and preserving Ottoman
      calligraphy so that it might be appreciated by a new generation in
      Turkey and elsewhere.

      I am enormously pleased to offer the first exhibition in the New World
      dedicated exclusively to Ottoman calligraphy and to introduce to an
      American audience the rich culture exemplified by these works of art.

      *From the introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition "Letters in
      Gold: Ottoman Calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci Collection,

      On becoming a calligrapher

      Imagine a small boy growing up in Istanbul in, let's say, 1600. The
      Ottoman Empire is still the biggest one in the world and all the world
      comes to its capital, Istanbul. This little boy would go with his
      father and older male relatives to a local mosque every day to pray,
      and on special occasions they might attend prayer services at one of
      the imperial mosques such as that of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, Sultan
      Beyazit II or Suleyman the Magnificent, or of one of the grand viziers
      or other important officials at the Ottoman court. In any case, he
      would see the names of God, the Prophet Mohammed and the caliphs who
      led the Muslims after the death of the prophet painted on the walls.
      Many Kurans, some of them quite ordinary, but perhaps some beautifully
      decorated and skillfully written, would be available for those who
      could read them.

      All of these books would have been handwritten, because we are talking
      about a time before the printing press was available. Writing these
      books was a labor of love, a means of showing one's skills and
      discipline and a way to earn money for the truly talented.

      Of course, this young boy could easily learn the Arabic alphabet,
      which was adopted and adapted to the Turkish language, and the Kuran
      at the many schools that were run by the various mosques. But suppose
      he wanted to learn to be a calligrapher.

      First, his father would have to find a calligrapher who was willing to
      take him on as a pupil. Then the boy would have to demonstrate that he
      had some aptitude and the capacity to learn the script in which that
      particular calligrapher was an expert. And this wouldn't be easy.

      While he was learning to draw the letters and unlearning the bad
      habits he had picked up at the school he attended, he would also learn
      how to choose the reeds which made good pens, how to make his own ink
      and where to find the ingredients with which to make it. He would
      learn about the different qualities of various paper, their
      durability, possibly even bookbinding, and he would learn the various
      traditions of how to treat the material to be copied and how to
      decorate the manuscript pages in pleasing ways. For instance, a reed
      pen and the shavings left from sharpening it could never be thrown
      away if it had been used to write even just one line of the Kuran.

      The secret behind good calligraphy is attributed to the skill of the
      writer, who may have taken four years or more to become good enough to
      qualify for a diploma certifying his ability. A well-designed
      calligraphic work of art or even a good "hand" is based on the space
      given to each letter and ligature, the length of the lines of the
      letters and words and the thickness of each stroke of a letter.

      Then one is faced with the knowledge that there is more than one style
      of writing to be learned, so it is no wonder that the strict
      discipline of each style militated against experimentation.

      Copyright 1997, Turkish Daily News. This article is redistributed with
      permission for personal use of TRKNWS-L readers. No part of this article
      may be reproduced, further distributed or archived without the prior
      permission of the publisher. Contact: Turkish Daily News Online on the
      Internet World Wide Web.

      For information on other matters please contact hk11 at tdn1.com
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