The late industrialist and collector Sakip Sabanci’s renowned calligraphy collection contains numerous outstanding works by the Ottoman calligrapher Seyh Hamdullah, who is commemorated with an exhibition on the 500th anniversary of his death.
Sakip Sabanci Museum (SSM), housed in a mansion in Emirgan, on the European side of Istanbul, is a gorgeous place to visit on any given day, nestled among trees, with a terrace overlooking the Bosporus. So art lovers would be happy to hear that there is a great excuse to go to the ‘Mansion with the Horse’ – namely, to view the exquisite calligraphic works by Seyh Hamdullah, an Ottoman master who died 500 years ago.
Writing in the foreword of the book of the exhibition, Sakip Sabanci Museum Director Nazan Olcer says “Islamic art undoubtedly drew on [histories and traditions of very diverse Muslim societies], with writing forming the essential element underpinning the art that emerged. This writing was applied in widely disparate fields, ranging from architecture to artefacts of all kinds, including tiles, ceramics, woodwork, stone carvings and textiles. Above all, the arts of the book were most esteemed of all of the applications over the centuries. Large numbers of great artists earned admiration and support for their work and outstanding collections were established.”
One such revered master was Seyh Hamdullah, who was born in Amasya in 1436, “where as a prince the future Bayezid II served as governor from 1455 until 1481. [Seyh Hamdullah’s] father Mustafa Dede was a scholar who had migrated from Bukhara to Amasya and went on to serve as sheikh of the Suhreveriyye Sufi order.”
Olcer writes that Amasya, in northern Anatolia, had become an important centre for religious scholars and artists from major Central Asian cultural centres such as Bukhara, Samarkand and Herat, thanks to Sehzade Bayezid’s patronage of scholars and artists.
According to Olcer, “Seyh Hamdullah was educated by important scholars in this flourishing environment and won a high reputation as a calligrapher. When Sultan Mehmed II died in 1481, his son Bayezid acceded to the Ottoman throne and invited Seyh Hamdullah to Topkapı Palace [in Istanbul] to serve as royal scribe. There Seyh Hamdullah created his finest works and taught calligraphy. He was known for his outstanding skill in diverse writing styles and made major changes that led to a new school of Ottoman calligraphy.”
It is some of these undeniably beautiful works of calligraphy that are on display in a room on the second floor of the Sakip Sabanci Museum. Their numbers are not vast, and some of them are copies displayed digitally. Olcer explains that due to the coronavirus pandemic, the scope of the exhibition had to be reduced:
“The comprehensive exhibition that we had originally planned with leading experts in this field, Prof. Dr. Zeren Tanındı and Prof. Dr. Muhittin Serin, was to have included works loaned by overseas museum and library collections, but sadly the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the world made this impossible. Not only did travel restrictions prevent loans from abroad, but it was also impossible to include works from the Topkapı Palace collection due to reorganisation and an ongoing inventory at the museum. Consequently we have only been able to display these in digital form.”
That being said, the works on display until March 31, 2021, definitely warrant a trip to the museum, as there are other meticulously illustrated scripts in adjoining rooms, Qurans and manuscripts and sultan’s decrees.
While at the museum, visitors may also wish to visit the Osman Hamdi Bey: Beyond Vision exhibition, which is “based on the results of the ‘Scientific Analysis and Conservation of Osman Hamdi Bey’s Paintings’ project which was completed in two years, and aims to inform the guests about the artist’s paint application techniques, the materials he used and the restoration work the paintings have undergone.”