Miniatures, Marbling, and Calligraphy: A Look at Traditional Turkish Art

Ottoman miniature | © British Library Images Online/Wikimedia Commons
Ottoman miniature | © British Library Images Online/Wikimedia Commons
Traditional Turkish art has many facets including metal, glass, wood, and leather artwork as well as handwritten books, lamps, and stone carvings. However, the traditional art of miniatures, marbling, and calligraphy are some of the most well-known. We went back in time to follow the story of these unique visual forms of Turkish art.


A miniature, or a painting within an illuminated book or manuscript, is one of the most popular forms of traditional Turkish art that has its roots in the Ottoman Empire. However, miniatures are also linked to the Persian miniature tradition as well as influences from Chinese art. During the Ottoman era, the studios where artists worked on this unique visual style were called Nakkashanes, as miniatures were called nakish in Ottoman Turkish. During the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent and Selim II, miniatures lived out their golden age with Nakkaş Osman among one of the most important painters during this period. Miniatures were composed of bold colors such as bright red, green, and scarlet, which were made from ground powder pigments mixed with egg-white or diluted gum Arabic. The scenes depicted in the artworks often included the confluence of different time periods, closely following the context of the book they were depicting.

Ottoman miniature © Bilkent University/Wikimedia Commons


Known as ebru, marbling is believed to have been invented in 13th-century Turkistan and has been present in China, India, Persia, and Anatolia. During the Seljuk and Ottoman empires, marbling was used to decorate books as well as official decrees and documents. During its heyday, new forms and techniques of marbling were perfected and Turkey became the center of this particular art form up until the 1920s when marbler workshops were a common sight in Istanbul’s Beyazıt district. The art form of marbling is defined by the creation of colorful patterns through the sprinkling and meticulous brushing of color on a pan of water with oil. The patterns are then transferred to paper with beautiful creations that are different every time.


Although calligraphy is not Turkish in its origins, the Ottoman’s adopted the unique art form and carried it to its artistic height over a 500-year period. Islamic calligraphy, specifically, includes Arabic, Ottoman, and Persian calligraphy and its development is tied closely to excerpts from the Qur’an as one of the main artistic expressions of Islamic cultures. In the Ottoman tradition, Diwani (a cursive style of Arabic calligraphy) was developed in the 16th-century, reaching its pinnacle during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. Turkish calligraphists were known to always make their own tools, including paper painted with natural dyes, pens made of hard reeds, and ink which was composed of burned pine and linseed oil.

18th-century Ottoman calligraphic panel © Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons