Decorative Turkish Arts


The first thing that comes to mind whenever calligraphy is mentioned is the decorative use of Arabic letters. This art emerged after a long period between the 6th and 10th centuries as Arabic letters evolved.

After turning to Islam and adopting the Arabic alphabet, the Turks failed to play any part in the art of calligraphy for a long time. They first began to show an interest in it after moving to Anatolia, and the Ottoman period was one of the times during which it flourished most. Yakut-ı Mustasımi was particularly influential in Anatolia from the beginning of the 13th century to the middle of the 15th. Şeyh Hamdullah (1429-1520) made a number of changes to the rules introduced by Yakut-ı Mustasımi, thus giving Arabic letters are warmer, softer appearance. Şeyh Hamdullah is regarded as the father of Turkish calligraphy, and his style and influence predominated until the 17th century. It was Hafız Osman (1642-1698) who produced the art's most aesthetically mature period. All the great calligraphers who came after basically followed in Hafız Osman's footsteps.

As well as the six main styles of calligraphy, the Turks also created a new style from the 'talik' form discovered by the Persians. The early examples of this 'talik' style were heavily influenced by Persia, but in the 18th century mehmed Esad Yesari (died 1798) and his son Yesari Mustafa İzzet (died 1849) gave it a whole new appearance. Turkish calligraphy continued to shine in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the adoption of the Latin alphabet in 1928, however, it ceased to be a popular art form, becoming merely a traditional art taught in a certain number of schools.


As well as the six styles that emerged with the birth of the art of calligraphy and the 'talik' form from Persia, there are a large number of other styles. One part of these never spread widely, and another part was only employed in particular fields. For example, the 'divani' style developed by the Turks was only used for important documents written at the imperial court, and the 'siyakat' form, which required special training to be able to read and write, was only used for financial records. The 'rik'a' style was easily written, and thus became widely used in daily life, becoming an art style in the 19th century. The 'rik'a' style must not be confused with the 'rika' form, one of the six main forms of calligraphy.

In calligraphy, different names were given to written texts according to their size. Signs hung on walls, on the domes and braces of religious buildings such as mosques and tombs, and all texts used on inscriptions and intended to be read from afar were known as 'celi.' The 'sülüs' and 'talik' forms were generally preferred for 'celi' work. Texts written in much smaller letters than usual were called 'hurde,' and those on a scale that was difficult to make out were called 'gubari.'


The pen was the basic tool used in calligraphy, and particularly the reed pen. The end of the reed was held at an angle over a hard pad known as a 'makta' and sharpened according to the text to be written with a special knife. 'Celi' texts were written with thick pens made of wood, and metal nibs were employed for very fine letters. The ink used in calligraphy was also specially prepared. It was produced by mixing oiled soot with a number of other substances, and allowed the pen to flow easily. It could also be erased easily in the event of a mistake. Special paper was also used. The paper was made transparent with a special substance in order that it should absorb the ink and to allow the pen to move easily over it.


An exponent of the art of calligraphy is known as a 'hatta,' or 'fine-writing artist.' For centuries such artists were trained in a master-apprentice relationship, and anyone wishing to learn the art of calligraphy would learn from a master. Initially these lessons, known as 'meşk' and intended to introduce the student to the art, began with learning to write individual letters. This was then followed by joining letters together and writing words and sentences. At the end of some three to five years of training, the apprentice would take a kind of written exam before two or three masters. If the masters approved the text written by the apprentice they would sign their names to it. This was then known as an 'icazetname' or licence to practice. Nobody who lacked such a document could be considered a calligrapher and could not therefore sign his name to any text produced by him.